Note: I have no idea whether other people might find this essay interesting. Writers tend to find everything interesting, and everyone tends to find himself interesting (much to the dismay and/or boredom of others). But I had fun writing it because it opened up a lot of overlooked memories (both olfactory and non-olfactory).
Breakfast: An Autobiography
I am typing this on the bus at 7:30 AM — thinking about breakfast. It’s one of those banal and obvious topics which few people get around to writing about.1 Meals are specific to a time and place; when we read a book or journal, we assume that the normal daily routines of the people we read about are similar to our own: dressing, sleeping, going to the bathroom, eating, washing up, going to work, etc. But that is a mistake. Whenever I travel or visit someone’s house (even if it is only to my sister’s house 200 miles away), I am struck by the differences. That is why I think it’s valuable to describe my own daily breakfast routines. They aren’t terribly original or interesting – just different. But the exercise reminds us about how different each of our lives are – down to the smallest detail. We share a common reality, but not a common way of experiencing the daily rhythms of life. Even for breakfast.
Growing Up – Student Years
While growing up, I had almost no memory about eating breakfast. Maybe I ate cereal at my mother’s insistence, but generally I did without it. The cereals I chose were sickeningly sweet. Either I chose Life cereal or Frosted Mini-Wheats; later I switched to Spoon-Sized Shredded Wheat, but this cereal literally had no taste, and I learned only later that the processed high-carbohydrate cereals all have the same number of calories anyway — so I might as well have sugared it up. Later I learned that the alleged nutrients on the cereal label came from additives and fortified milk. The cereal itself was just a bunch of sugary crap.
I knew from an early age that fruits and vegetables were important, so I probably included a banana with breakfast – though it seemed more of an afterthought. It was a way to convince oneself that one’s diet was healthy and balanced.
My high school was about 15 miles away, so I drove a carpool or rode in one, frequently stopping somewhere along the way. Mostly I ate junk food. When I drove the carpool, I stopped every day by a small convenience store called Sunny’s; I usually bought a 12 oz can of coke and a Snicker’s candy bar (sometimes another brand for variety). Maybe I bought a donut at another shop. I sometimes got headaches in the afternoon, and I never made the connection until years later that skipping protein in the morning in favor of sugary foods might have been the cause of it. I had always heard that avoiding foods high in fat such as meat and cheese was top priority; It never occurred to me that protein actually helped to make a balanced diet.
College opened new vistas for breakfast. . Each student received a Validine card, a kind of credit card which they used to spend at the cafeteria; suddenly I was confronted with bacon and eggs EVERY DAY — not to mention soda and croissants and hash browns and grits and pancakes and donuts. I don’t think I ate cereal a single day during my college years. Oh, yes, the salad bar was overflowing with all the fruit and vegetables you could eat, and if I had the patience, I could go to the grill and order any omelet of my choosing; they were great!
At home during weekends my mom usually cooked a big breakfast. Maybe not on Saturday — mothers should be able to sleep in too. But Sundays were always a big deal. We always had fried eggs and toast and or bacon, plus coffee. I have never been a coffee drinker, but somehow it always seemed appropriate to have coffee at a family breakfast on Sunday or while eating breakfast at a restaurant. Often we had pancakes (and — once in a while — waffles, — a real treat). I always used to be grossed out about how before frying eggs or bacon, Mom dolloped a spoonful of bacon grease on the pan; she dutifully stored the bacon grease in a jar after every Sunday breakfast; it always seemed to be the epitome of evil — was she trying to poison us? But her eggs always used to taste good (if not with fuller flavor from the leftover grease seeping into our arteries).
During grad school in Baltimore, I developed different breakfast routines. I think I ate cereal and occasionally Scrapple with ketchup. Scrapple was a hard-to-cook pork concoction which my mom had grown up on and fed to us on special breakfast days. The coolest thing about it was that you could cut it into little squares, fry it on the frying pan (making sure that it didn’t stick or break up in the frying pan) and then add ketchup as the piece de resistance. I wasn’t really a ketchup fanatic, but somehow having that sweet refrigerated liquid over the crunchy Scrapple square seemed a match made in heaven. I honestly don’t remember what fruit I had with breakfast or even whether I had cereal. My morning schedule in grad school varied a lot; not only did I usually have time to eat breakfast, I also had time to prepare for my classes (and read manuscripts by other students for writing workshop).
Unlike my undergraduate years, I lived in separate housing for grad students, so I rarely ate at school cafeterias. I was in urban Baltimore, surrounded by pedestrians, buses, small shops, row houses and students and pedestrians of all ages. A few blocks away was a small corner supermarket; 10 more minutes away was something I had never encountered before: an outdoor farmer’s market. I don’t remember buying many fruits and vegetables there, but I always bought rainbow trout and fresh pastries and apple cider. Sunday morning became the time to buy stuff at the farmer’s market and bagels at a bakery across from the small supermarket. When I arrived in Baltimore, I was still in my donut-eating phase, but by the end of the school year, I was feasting on bagels and all kinds of fresh breads. I didn’t quite know how to eat bagels; what do you spread them with? But they seemed easy, compact and practical — a perfect kind of food — and healthy too.
Bagel Obsessions in the 1990s
After grad school I returned to Houston where I took the bus daily to work. Usually I ate a small portable breakfast while waiting for the bus. Two things affected my diet at the time. First, I lived next to a bagel shop owned by a French women. The sesame seed bagels were both fresh and flavorful. I would buy a dozen or two or stick them in the freezer, heating one in the toaster oven before going to work. Because everybody was talking about the importance of being low-fat, I wanted to avoid cream cheese; thus began my quest to find the most delicious jams at the supermarket. I quickly learned that simple jelly had no taste at all; the ones with the unusual fruit flavor were the ones I sought most. Blackberry, peaches, boysenberry. At the same time, I discovered the Orange Show, a one man pop art museum started by Jeff McKissack. The Orange Show was hailed as the apotheosis of the orange, praising especially its nutritional value. McKissack wrote a book called How to Live to be 100 and Stay Spry; Actually he died at 78, but who’s counting? The book wasn’t trying to be scientific, but nonetheless the personal testimony was convincing, especially after I picked up a Linus Pauling book which argued forcefully that megadoses of vitamin C had a very beneficial effect on health (and Pauling had lived into his 90s). In the early 1990s, my breakfasts consisted mainly of Diet Coke, bagel with jam and sliced oranges. I didn’t try to peel them; I just quartered them and sucked out their juices. I did essentially the same thing with grapefruit; after all they were just a bigger kind of oranges. At about that time, I was afflicted by migraine headaches and visited a doctor for help; when he suggested adding fat and protein to my breakfast combo, I just didn’t know what to do; I wasn’t a big fan of cheese (it was high fat), but occasionally I bought those microwavable mini-sandwiches for variety. They tasted good, but I knew that processed mini-meals like this offered little more than grease and processed bread; I almost felt ashamed after eating one.
In 1995 I joined the Peace Corps. That offered several culinary challenges. For the first 4 months I lived with two families. Breakfast often featured leftovers from the previous night. That meant soup, hot dogs, salad, bread. I couldn’t really blame the mother; she was overworked and had no time to fix anything special. Albania had something called a byrek — a kind of pastry with crumbly cheese inside. It wasn’t horrible, but I quickly grew tired of that. The fresh bread was edible though I didn’t like it; also if it wasn’t fresh, it became hard to chew. Fruits in Albania weren’t as high quality as you’d find in an American supermarket; the oranges tasted bad; the bananas had blemishes; I wasn’t a fan of cereal there; instead what was popular was a bizarre chocolate/hazelnut spread which the kids put over their bread. I wasn’t exactly sure what hazelnut was, and it seemed sickeningly sweet for me. The milk there was unpasteurized, and so in the rare times I did have milk, it had to be boiled first. But I did enjoy the yogurt there which everybody seemed to have. Apparently with yogurt, as long as you have yogurt, you can keep adding milk to it and let it congeal into yogurt, so you had an almost unlimited supply. The yogurt generally was delicious, but sometimes hard on the stomach. I wondered if it had been left sitting out at room temperature too long (that was necessary for the congealing) or if the bacteria just did bad things to me; In Albania I was obsessed with avoiding stomach problems, so yogurt — delicious as it was — always seemed a risk.
For some breakfasts there was leftover hot dogs — which I hated and rarely ate. Or there was leftover salad — which generally meant tomato, speca (green peppers) and cucumber. At least that was healthy, but I grew sick of that. Finally the mother confronted me and asked why I ate so little for breakfast. What did I want her to prepare? I wasn’t a big fan of breakfast anyway, so finally I just told her to get those chocolate-covered croissants which had just hit the city; I’m sure it was as unhealthy as anything, but at least I’d eat it. The most interesting thing about breakfasts in Albania was that it was still a family affair and there were no special breakfast foods; breakfast was just leftovers.
Later, when I lived by myself in an apartment in Vlore, Albania, I had to fend for myself with meals. There were several challenges: First, water was intermittent and unreliable, so my morning schedule depended on when I could shower. Second, I was generally writing lessons before class, so I almost never had time to pay attention to meals. Bread went stale pretty quickly, and I didn’t eat cereal. Sometimes — to be honest about it — I didn’t even bother eating at home but simply bought something on the road. Usually I had whatever fruit was fresh at the time — oranges, grapefruit. Perhaps I had a slice of cheese, but I definitely had Coke (not diet coke). Also, I started a routine of eating a small package of Ulker cookies. Every day, without fail. Sometimes, if running late, I’d simply bring it with me. If I wanted a change of pace, I would instead have Snickers for breakfast.. Imagine that! Deep down I knew this was a terrible meal, but in my defense, I often ate a lot of fruits and local bread and a small slice of cheese.
I did that for two years and then moved to Ukraine to teach for a year.
I don’t really remember what I ate in Ukraine. I certainly remember that Ukraine had Diet Coke and a wider variety of candy bars (not to mention fruit). I’m sure I bought bananas and citrus fruit; maybe I had cheese in the morning; I honestly don’t remember much of what I ate in Ukraine. My Ukraine memories tended to be vivid – just not breakfast! Some days I remember stopping for a pastry or bread, and I definitely remember passing by the outdoor markets (even in the depths of winter) on the way to work.
One day I visited a supermarket by my Ukrainian khrushchevka and stumbled upon an imported bag of Mueslix cereal. I had never heard of it before, and the package had all sorts of German writing I vaguely understood. It was delicious — a crunchy, nutty, sugary kind of thing…Not too sugary, but it definitely had a honey or brown sugar kind of glaze. It was heavenly .. and expensive! If I were not careful, I could eat the entire bag; it needed to last for several days at least.
As you can guess, I was never really a cereal person; I outgrew that habit after childhood, but I quickly rediscovered the joys of eating a sweet crunchy food. But no…Mueslix was a breakfast for adults, and so I ate it with milk, and suddenly once again I had a breakfast routine. I realized that meusli alone was not enough for a well-balanced diet, but at least it was edible, and now I no longer needed to worry about heating something up — mornings in Ukraine were often a mad dash to finish my lessons and run to class in time.
2000s: Speedy Professional Breakfasts
When I returned home, I experienced a bit of breakfast culture shock. Where was Muesli? Eventually I found it at Whole Foods, and yes, it was just as expensive here as it was in Ukraine. After Ukraine, I was working at various temporary jobs around the medical center in Houston. My whole morning schedule revolved not around breakfast but whether I could get to that damn bus stop on time. I lived close to that same bagel place from the 1990s although it had long since closed ; I didn’t eat bagels as ferociously as before, but it still was a regular part of my morning routine — after all, I just needed to heat it up, wrap it in a napkin and bring it with me to the bus stop – where I could consume it with a Diet Coke. I had two basic flavors: cinnamon raison and sesame seed – during fits of daring — poppy seed. Of course, I still did my sliced oranges — but only when I had enough time to eat at the kitchen table before dashing off.
A year later I found a job at Dell Computers, and with that job came a car. I still ate bagels and oranges, but the Dell offices had lots of offerings. They had no cafeteria and a very small kitchen but free drinks and vending machines. People were always bringing in bagels and donuts. Sometimes it was provided by the staff or a manager at meetings (they were the ultimate geek bribes), but I had to be careful not to eat too much junk.
One day I noticed a Mexican woman coming by each office with a cart full of wrapped breakfast tacos. They were SO cheap! Only a dollar or a dollar fifty. They had egg, beans, chorizo (a kind of Mexican sausage) as well as hot sauce. It all seemed so informal and under-the-table. I got lazy about bringing breakfast or lunch — because I knew that the Mexican woman would be showing up — and indeed, on the days when I missed her, I felt that the rest of the day would be impossible. (I even wrote a short story about it). Dell had a lot of money sloshing around, so it was common for breakfast meetings to include bagels, donuts — plus free sodas for everybody!
At about that time, I started getting off bagels and started preferring sausage sandwiches, these quick and microwavable little sandwiches which tasted good (well, adequate) even though I knew that that they were probably killing my insides. I was still in the orange/grapefruit phase, and I still ate bagels though not as often.
During my unemployment in 2001-2 my lifestyle changed, and especially my morning routine. First, I had to cut back on a lot of expenses. But I allowed myself one luxury — riding down the street to have a breakfast at McDonalds every Friday. I know what they say about fast food restaurants, but the meals were cheap and filling. Egg, bacon, pancakes for less than 4$ — you couldn’t beat that. Obviously I couldn’t do that everyday, but even in my poverty I allowed this one pick me up. I vividly remembered going to the McDonalds — sometimes on the night before, I eagerly awaited it. I know this sounds silly, but it was true.
In the morning I would ride up the hill on Braker Lane to the McDonalds. The delicious irony of the event is that when I entered the restaurant and stood in line, I was surrounded by a dozen or so customers ordering breakfast items — who were indifferent about it and were just picking up their breakfast to get out of there or to chow down breakfast quickly so they can get to work in time. At the same time I was ordering basically the same meal, but when I picked up my order and sat down, I ate it as though I were at a ritzy French restaurant — savoring every morsel. First, there was the bacon — how big would the pieces be? which I would dip into the same syrup I used for the pancakes. Then I would eat the eggs — although sometimes I got it without eggs to save money
In late 2000 I got broadband Internet at home and started surfing the Internet while eating breakfast. I did this a lot in 2001 during my Austin unemployment. I also resumed writing on a semi-regular basis (I had taken a long sabbatical from it). In the 1990s I had only been able to write at night and weekends, but my unemployment gave me more time to write and blog (most of which I did around breakfast time). Even after I found a job, my jobs had flexible start hours, so if I started at 6 AM, I could write for 2 or 3 hours before going to work.
Because my morning routine centered around the computer, I started eating breakfast in front of it as well. In Austin my computer was in my bedroom, so it began to seem like I was constantly bringing bagels and oranges into my bedroom. What a mess.
In 2002 I moved to Houston and lived temporarily with my parents while working at a new job. My work was 20-30 minutes away, so breakfasts generally had to be eaten in the car. More sausages sandwiches (ugh), quartered oranges, bagels and Diet Coke. Eventually I switched to kiwis – which were much easier to eat in the car. I loved kiwis. I loved how their taste were tart when barely ripe and cloyingly sweet when mushy. Most kiwis were imported and varied in sizes. But bigger was not necessarily better – they often had a bitter taste. Sometimes the small ones had a more even taste and a rich flavor. Occasionally I stopped for kolaches, but unless I were famished, I generally found that for the same amount of time it took to park a car, wait in line and pay, I could generally whip up a portable breakfast more quickly. My car quickly became a mess – plates of dried kiwi skins piled up in my passenger’s seat. My company cafeteria at TI had a cafeteria which served breakfast, but I don’t remember ever eating breakfast there.
Experimenting with Breakfast
I worked at TI for 4 years,and — I don’t know how it happened — but I started the habit of eating dark chocolate for breakfast. Soon it became my primary motivator for getting up and going to work. I had read industry-funded studies about its health benefits of chocolate, and — after hearing a radio report about the exploitative labor practices of Ivory Coast cocoa farmers — I switched to a specialty chocolate grown elsewhere. The chocolate was more expensive, but I could eat less of it, and it tasted better. Every morning I had chocolate and diet coke (which coincidentally is what I had in high school or in Albania).
In 2006 I quit my job to work on all sorts of projects and adopted a new breakfast routine. At about the same time I realized with shock and horror that I needed to lose weight. I was borderline obese. Making sure I ate a good breakfast became extra important to me. I was eating way too much processed food — and that included those sausage biscuits which I always found so convenient (although I never really liked those things). Over the next 3 years I worked at home on and off, so I had a lot of opportunities to experiment with diet and lifestyle.
Then, like magic, I stumbled upon a formula which worked.
First, I started eating canned kippers, a $1 tin of smoked herring which was high in Omega 3s.
Then I started buying frozen blueberries….and lots of them. I found I could pop a good handful of those things into my mouth, enjoying the sweet icy flavor and the fact I was obtaining fiber and antioxidants in the process.
Finally, I would have oat meal — the old-fashioned Quaker Oats kind. I don’t mean “old-fashioned” in the general sense, but the cardboard box actually used the phrase “old-fashioned” to distinguish it from the 1 minute instant kind. Since I was working from home, I had the extra 5 minutes to cook the Oat Meal on the stove, and then to add milk, honey and cinnamon on top. The cinnamon was a nice touch too. I quickly learned that when you used lots of cinnamon you didn’t need to sweeten it as much.
My next two jobs had flexible hours — I only had to show up at about 10, and my natural tendency was to work from 10 to 7. That allowed me to get up early and write and sometimes even exercise. It also gave me considerable control over breakfast schedule. In the morning I surfed the web, blogged and made a lot of progress on the fiction writing. As strange as it sounded, making work at 10 proved to be a challenge, because once the writing engines were revved up, it was hard to tear myself away. Sometimes I would awake as early as 5 or so, so that left me a big block of time to write — although I paid the price for it later than evening upon coming home. I wanted to do nothing more than sleep.
I fluctuated between full time work, working at home and unemployment, so I had lots of time in the morning to prepare breakfast. I also lost 20 pounds, a point I remain proud of (although I later gained it back). Suddenly breakfast became the most important meal of the day. It was a time in my day with maximum freedom. I could relax and enjoy the blueberries and the oatmeal. Actually my breakfast had stages: the diet coke phase, (usually) the chocolate phase, then the blueberry phase, then oatmeal and kipper phase. It was a veritable 5 course breakfast!
I noticed that after this 5 course breakfast I felt unusually well-fed, so much that I hardly felt like eating lunch — even a late lunch. My breakfast had rejuvenated me. Sure, maybe I had a mid afternoon snack (usually fruit), but I didn’t feel hungry.
Strangely I started taking more naps than usual. I was constantly taking breaks– usually short naps to read or just doze. These naps rarely took longer than 15 minutes, but they gave me extra bursts of energy throughout the day . When I was tackling technical or literary problems, it was essential that I work at peak efficiency, and naps ensured that. I often took morning naps (which I called “braps”) just after breakfast. It felt silly, but they made lots of sense.
I would have loved to maintain that open-ended schedule, but I noticed a few things:
First, these work/living arrangements were often last resort things; I was not making enough money to do this on a regular basis. Second, I found that with more lavish breakfast meals, sometimes I was not really working — though I had my web editor open. Instead I was staring at the screen, watching Youtube, giving a feisty rejoinder on a thread.
Second, when my schedule was more open, I ended up shifting my work schedule later and later. Ideally when working at home one should maintain a regular work shift schedule of 8 to 5 or 9 to 6, but as I found time to handle personal business during the day or attend weekday events never before available to me, my whole routine became later. Eventually it reached a point where I was working on job-related stuff until midnight. Once in a blue moon I could handle it, but when it became to seem that there was no long dinner break to look forward to in the evening, I found it hard to relax. It seemed that my only moment of relaxation came during breakfast — which was strange, because at all my other jobs, breakfast meant hurrying and eating on the run.
Third, I read somewhere that exercising before breakfast was a good weight-loss strategy (for reasons having to do with metabolism). That certainly felt right, and truly, one sign of having a perfect schedule is being able to exercise in the morning without having to worry about work commitments. Pose a hypothetical question: if you could work from home at a job with no set schedule (ending by 7 or 7:30 at the latest), and could exercise and run errands in the morning, wouldn’t that be paradise?
The two flaws in this schedule are this:
First, you end up creating a huge mess in the kitchen and even in the computer room. It almost would be better to keep the eating room and work area in 2 different rooms. Second, you rarely see people anymore. I’m a loner and used to working in solitude. But after a while it starts to change you. You become grateful for any kind of human contact and end up talking the ear off the grocery store cashier or the apartment leasing agent. You don’t have any acquaintances anymore, and frankly, telephone conversations just don’t offer the same quality of personal interactions of face-to-face conversations.
Throughout my discussion of breakfast, I have not addressed the obvious matter of eating with people. When I grew up, I saw family members everyday. Indeed, on weekends I ate breakfast with them everyday as well. Most of the time when you are eating on the run (in the car, before rushing to work), you are not really eating with anybody except the car radio.
On the other hand, if you eat at work (and I think everybody does that eventually), most of the time you are dining on cafeteria food, but at least enjoy the company of coworkers. I mentioned before the breakfast tacos at my Dell job. Besides the fact that I liked breakfast tacos, I enjoyed not having to clean up and being able to relax at my cubicle while I was settling into work. Some companies may frown on eating at your desk, and sometimes the available workspace may make this difficult. But eating here brings pleasures akin to eating at a restaurant: no mess to clean up, no time to wait, and time to goof off before you start a hard day’s work.
Unhealthy Breakfasts at Work?
But breakfasts at work can be unhealthy. The typical “boss’s treat” is to stop by and bring a box of donuts or kolaches. I confess that I have little resistance against such surprises. A boss does this as a morale booster, and often it is both appropriate and laudable. But what happens if you already ate breakfast at home or in the car? Eating donut won’t do too much harm — or will it? Has anyone looked at just how many calories these donuts have? Eating a donut on its own is bad enough, but eating it on top of another breakfast is even worse. I read recently that obesity is contagious — that hanging around obese people increases your likelihood of obesity. But it is hard to bring healthy snacks. Bacon or eggs or kolaches seems so much more substantial, and besides fresh fruit is expensive and doesn’t seem to signal a special occasion. When I eat from home, I can maintain stricter control over what I eat. But when your diet depends partially on what other people are providing, — and that means a lot of junk and surprise birthday cakes — eating becomes a social ritual of indulgence.
I started a new job in April, and with it came major modifications to my schedule. At first I was determined to keep my breakfast routine, and I did for a while. But with every passing week my waking time became later, and I usually left home so frantically that I barely had time to bring something to eat. When I worked at the medical center a decade ago, I usually wrapped my heated bagel in a napkin and nibbled on it while waiting on the bus. I even brought my diet coke with me.
But that was when buses used to come every 15-20 minutes. But now buses come by every 5-10 minutes, leaving little time to do anything (and that is a good thing; waiting for more than 10 minutes during Houston summers left an uncomfortable amount of sweat)
To be sure, I tried waking earlier — sometimes I awoke at 4 or 5 in the morning to work on writing and technical stuff, and often tried to have breakfast before going to work.
But there was one element to the equation. In 2009 I got a dachshund named AJ. A decent fellow and joy to be around, but he has completely disrupted my morning schedule. Within 5 minutes of awakes, AJ goes crazy if he hasn’t been walked. And when I walk him, it isn’t always easy. For one thing, he doesn’t exactly do his business upon request. Sometimes, in fact, he stubbornly refuses to head homeward; he is acutely aware of the apartment complex across the street which we visit during the evening walk. The complex across the street offers all kinds of temptations: kids, adults with dogs, a much larger walking area, lots of white trash bags promising all kinds of delectable smells and food sources, barbecue grills with lingering smells of barbecues and chicken bones. I don’t blame AJ for viewing that other apartment complex as paradise, but under no circumstances will I go there in the morning. And sometimes AJ stubbornly sits on the sidewalk; under no circumstances will he agree to go home unless we make a trip across the street. Eventually a compromise is reached; either I agree to walk in a wider perimeter around my apartment, or we agree to go across the street for just a minute or (more frequently) I bribe him with dog snacks brought precisely for that purpose.
This same absurd struggle takes place every day. It is impossible to predict how long the walk will last. 10, 15, 20, 25 minutes? When I come home, I find all the free time in the morning has been frittered away by AJ’s lackadaisical investigation of other dog’s poop. So nothing in my morning routine can be taken for granted — not even breakfast; it’s just something I had to live with.
The bus ride to work is usually therapeutic, but unfortunately I arrive at work hungry. The place where I worked had a cafeteria which served breakfast, but it was that typical meat-lovers and sugar delight you found everywhere. Gradually, though, I found a routine. After entering the building in the morning, I would get a bag of 3 pieces of bacon for 1.50. Ok, I’ll admit it; it was heavenly! I recognized that it probably wasn’t an optimal breakfast; at the same time it was protein, and it tasted great (even though it really didn’t fill me up). I definitely missed the appetite-suppressing oatmeal topped with that heavenly mix of cinnamon and honey. Yes, I had tried preparing oatmeal at work using the microwave, but that was unsatisfying; it required a lot of dishes and silverware, plus it just didn’t taste right. Eventually I adopted a new routine — buying bacon downstairs in the cafeteria, and eating it at my desk alongside a donut/cookie, a banana and hot green tea. It was not an optimal solution, but at least it relieved the pre-bus time pressures in the morning.
On weekends and holidays, I can revert to that free-for-all schedule of oatmeal/fish/blueberries/chocolate/Diet Coke. Please, nobody schedule meetings or outings on weekend mornings! That is my alone time to do whatever I want. I don’t necessarily write on those days, but I need the open space in the schedule to permit it at least.
As odd as this sounds, I don’t particularly like breakfast. Mostly it is something you do in a hurry before you work. Yet there have been times — glorious times! — when I could relax and luxuriate in the fresh perspective that comes with waking up. Sometimes in the winter, my natural laziness causes me to linger under the blankets and just read a book while A.J.provides polite company. Morning showers can be warm and invigorating though after you get out you realize that the day is propelling you towards the next appointment — shaving, dressing, etc. When breakfast has finally hit you, it becomes a kind of existential choice: do you continue rushing ahead through the day, or do you forget all obligations just to relax with a lovely, leisurely meal?
June 2015 Postscript. I just wish to point out that my breakfast rituals have undergone several changes since I published this essay. Perhaps someday I will describe these changes. Stay tuned!
November 2019 Update. Still haven’t done the update — but I will (at least before my essay collection comes out in 2020). But you can see my praise of canned sardines — which I have officially added to my morning routine.
April 2023. Still haven’t written that update. But here’s a breakfast on St. Patrick’s Day 2023:
1. When I googled “essay about breakfast” or “breakfast essay,” I get dozens of student term papers for sale about why breakfast is the most important meal of the day, or student essays for sale about “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” or “The Breakfast Club.” P.S. if you are student and plagiarize this essay, I will sue your butt! (Just kidding!)
2. Validines were totally new concepts to my class of 1988 (and to parents who paid the bills). They had 3 meal plans: Heavy, Medium and Light. I always bought the heavy meal plan, but alas, even that wasn’t enough. The balance could only be applied to one semester, so for the last two weeks or so I ended up eating like a pauper or borrowing off some skinny girl’s Validine. This happened every semester for 4 years. To those lovely college girls who let me mooch off their Validine during those final 2 weeks, I forever remain in your debt. The last week brought another strange ritual: skinny people were frantically trying to zero out their balance by buying expensive things. Picture the cafeteria during finals: overweight junk food junkies like myself were starving and begging for food from skinny casual acquaintances who were ordering steak dinners and take-out cheesecakes.