Thursday, 21 August 2008

The Most Important Meal

I do invite you to-morrow morning
to my house to breakfast …
Shall it be so?
William Shakespeare (Merry Wives of Windsor, III, iii)

"Breakfast," my mother used to say, "is the most important meal of the day."

Of course, all mothers say that. And I don't suppose my own mother had made any study of nutrition as it applied to young children; she probably heard it from her mother.

As my grandmother, and then my mother, were totally inept in the kitchen, hardly able to make toast, our most important meal was cold cereal. I can actually travel back that far and recall liking Rice Krispies, which we always had with cold, fresh milk—delivered in glass bottles every other day by a milkman called Butch—and to which we applied several heaping spoonfuls of sugar. My mother left the sugar bowl out, and in the damp Bermuda climate the contents soon became as hard as a rock. We used our spoons as chisels.

One of my earliest memories of breakfast is of tasting my glass of orange juice one morning and discovering that the usual, sweet, fresh beverage tasted absolutely vile. We were told to drink it anyway. My mother had heard that cod liver oil was good for little children, and reckoned that spooning it into us was not going to be easy, so she mixed it with our orange juice. I simply stopped drinking it, and—my perceptions horribly altered—didn't let it pass my lips for over ten years. I was delighted to find, in my late teens, that OJ was delicious. I'd been programmed to think it was ghastly.

I outgrew Rice Krispies and took to Special K. I always added sugar, never fruit. That was in Bermuda.

At school in England, along with cereal—Weetabix—I started eating toast. English style: made the night before and served cold. And drinking tea.

Breakfasts always seemed to be hurried. School to rush off to until I was 18. Then an office.

As I progressed at my first major employer, American International Group, I discovered that I could do my best work at around seven in the morning. I'd leave home with nothing but a little toothpaste in my system, stop by The Buckaroo, or another greasy spoon, and get coffee, something fried and dripping with grease, and a sticky bun. That bag of goodies would be consumed at my desk, and I'd dribble on financial reports from Venezuela and the Philippines and think about Incurred but Not Reported Loss Reserves. It's a wonder AIG made any money out of me.

Those were the days, and nights. Now and then I'd be out clubbing until nearly sunrise, and arrive home quite the worse for wear. I'd have time to shower, shave if I didn't have a beard at the time, and, still off my face, get back on my moped to go to the office. Early mornings like that might call for hamburgers and French fries from The Spot. I allocated IBNR reserves, and I gained weight.

After too many years of reinsurance accounting, I worked for a supermarket. I had a staff discount. I discovered that, on a cold morning, a bowl of Frankenberry or Count Chocula cereal would become incredibly wonderful if hot milk was added to it, rather than cold. It had another desirable effect, the cereal would melt down and more could be added. In fact, I could eat the best part—okay, all—of a box some mornings. I gained more weight.

In the late 1980s I became uncomfortably aware that I was getting too heavy, and stopped eating most solid food and, instead, for over a year, consumed Ultra Slim-Fast diet milkshakes. Nasty. But I lost over 50 lbs, and kept it off.

Diet Coke suited my mornings in the 1990s. In fact, I drank about ten cans of it daily, most in the wee hours of the morning while watching the QVC shopping channel on TV. As a good Mormon, I didn't drink tea or coffee. I usually skipped lunch as well as breakfast. My weight was about right.

There was a time, about four or five years ago, when I was technically homeless. One morning, after eating nothing but some soup late the night before from a Salvation Army wagon, I was feeling terribly hungry. I recall with great clarity sitting on a bench outside the Bermuda National Library with my gut rumbling. Suddenly, a voice: "Ross! Ross!" A friend of mine, Sonny, homeless—you'd call him a tramp, he looked, and was, filthy—appeared and was carrying a couple of very small boxes. "Have you eaten yet this morning, Ross?"

The boxes were the individual packs of Corn Flakes. He'd got them at the kitchen door of a restaurant; they were being chucked out for having passed their expiry dates. Sonny had one pack, I the other. No milk. One of the best breakfasts I ever had, and most appreciated. What ever happened to Sonny?

I lost 35 lbs during my homeless period. I was getting emaciated!

On the wing again, and staying in a baronial mansion being converted into a country hotel—Eaves Hall, in the Ribble Valley, Lancashire—I rediscovered the Full English Breakfast. A week of that, followed by a few weeks on the road in hotels in England, Scotland and Wales while doing a rather nice tour, and I'd recaptured my lost 35 lbs. I was looking better.

I cannot afford to eat huge, cooked breakfasts now. In fact, I have cold cereal—Cheerios or Weetabix—with skim milk, no sugar, strawberries in season, and tea or coffee. Six days a week. One morning, usually a Friday at about eleven o'clock, I walk over to Jasper's Café on the other side of town (a few hundred yards) and have an omelette (mushroom, ham and cheese) with a small salad. I have a cappuccino. I also have a glass of orange juice; they squeeze it as you watch. I read the newspapers and chat with anybody I know.

Cailean does better. I cook him a little meat each morning, which is mixed with a dry dog food, and he gets a bit of ground cheese on the top. Cold water.

Clear mornings, we eat out in the courtyard if it is warm enough. The jackdaws get some bread this time year. I make my tea or coffee last, reheating it a few times in the microwave.

Less pleasant mornings, we stay in my kitchen-office. I have a good-sized desk, and Cailean bunks under it.

We get a good deal of exercise, Cailean and I, and we are both nice and trim. And in good physical health, apparently. My blood pressure is steady and normal after nearly fifteen years of running dangerously high.

When Cailean gets fussy, which he does from time to time, like most puppies, and turns his nose up at some freshly-prepared lamb's liver, kibble and cheddar, I shake a finger at him and say:
"Kid, you know, breakfast is the most important meal of the day!"

1 comment:

Ruth L.~ said...

A breakfast retrospective. I love this! I went through the cod liver oil days too, but my mother wasn't as subtle . . . straight from a spoon she forced it sown our throats, although I don't remember much of this. I suppose we gagged enough and yelled, my brother and I, to make my mother resort to cooking calve's liver for supper once a week instead.

My mother used to expect me to eat soft boiled eggs for breakfast, too. Yeah, right!