Which Came First?

When my son wrapped up his undergraduate college years, he gradually reduced the stock in his refrigerator to just about nothing.  Living on a shoestring budget, he wasn’t about to purchase food he didn’t need after graduation.  I’ll never forget the phone call one of those last couple of nights.  He told us – rather proudly – he’d made a meal with two eggs… and a can of processed chicken.  A “chicken scramble” if you will.  To which I replied, “ick“.  If we’d been on FaceTime he’d have seen my face turn a lovely shade of green.

Some foods were just not intended to be consumed in the same bite.  I can’t think of a better example than chicken and eggs.  All chickens hatch from eggs and all chicken eggs are laid by chickens, so why on earth would we eat them together?  Can we skip the biology class and agree – at least by one definition – chickens and eggs are essentially the same “thing”?  And really; how often have you found them side-by-side on your breakfast plate?  Hopefully never.

The memory of my son’s kitchen creation locked itself away in my brain until recently, when Starbucks decided to meddle with their sous vide egg bites menu.  Not content to offer just “Egg White & Pepper” and “Bacon & Gruyere”, Starbucks now offers “Chicken Chorizo Tortilla”, described as “perfectly cooked, cage-free sous vide egg bites, including chicken chorizo, and…” and… and… and I stopped reading right there.  I couldn’t get past eggs and chicken in the same offering, gag reflex included.  I’m not sure I’ll order any egg bites anymore.

To lend credence to my chicken-OR – not chicken-AND – claim, I turned to one of the experts in the field: fast-food icon Chick-Fil-A.  CFA offers an extensive breakfast menu (Starbucks does not) so I figured, a restaurant built entirely on chicken would never offer eggs mixed up with chicken.  Wrong-o.  To my disbelief (and horror), two entrees loom large on CFA’s breakfast menu where you can get plenty of both.  Choose from the Egg White Grill: a breakfast portion of grilled chicken stacked with freshly cooked egg whites on an English muffin; or the Chicken, Egg, and Cheese bagel: a boneless breast of chicken along with a folded egg and American cheese.  Seriously, who buys this stuff?

I’m not sure who said it, but some would assert “the chicken is merely the egg’s way of reproducing itself”. (The same applies to the caterpillar’s “use” of the butterfly.)  I like that, evil as it sounds.  Kind of devalues the chicken, but also kind of proclaims: the egg came first.  And what about that quandary, “which came first”?  There’s not much to discuss if you really think about it.  Make the simple choice – science or religion.  Science votes for the egg, laid by something that wasn’t quite a chicken (but evolved into one once the egg hatched).  Religion votes for the chicken, created by a higher power in those first six days.

Maybe chicken + eggs is the greatest thing never eaten and I just don’t know what I’m missing.  I suppose I could ease into the idea one entree at a time.  Start with corned-beef hash… with fried eggs.  Move to full-on steak… and eggs.  Swallow hard over chicken… and waffles (eggs in the batter).  Then, at long last, order that new sous vide egg bite from Starbucks.  Yeah right, that’ll happen… as soon as we all agree on “which came first”.

Dream Puffs

Last year, Starbucks surpassed Subway as America’s #2 restaurant, measured by gross sales (McDonald’s is still top dog).  I don’t consider Starbucks a place to “dine”, so second-place is impressive.  Then again, Starbucks’ bakery case has matured since its initial offerings.  There are temptations-a-plenty now, en route to the barista.  The traditional breakfast items share space with yogurt parfaits, fruit-and-cheese boxes, “fold-over” sandwiches, and entree-size salads.  But it’s the smaller offerings I want to talk about today.  Look closely through the glass – you’ll see sous vide egg bites and Bantam’s bite-sized bagels.  Those little guys could be the future of fast food.

egg bites

I haven’t tried the mini bagels, but Starbucks wins me over with its egg bites.  The first time I gave them a whirl, my wife and I were in the middle of Lent, trying to find alternatives to the foods we gave up.  Egg bites to the rescue.  The sous vide prep means cooked in water, with nothing but a bit of spinach, red pepper, and cheese mixed in for flavor.  Simply elegant (elegantly simple?), and the light, fluffy texture makes them as delicious as they are convenient.

Three Little Griddles
Æbleskiver

Now let’s talk about real breakfast foods.  Last weekend, my wife and I went to a nearby restaurant called Three Little Griddles.  Much to my delight, Griddles had Æbleskiver on the menu.  If you’re Danish, you already know what I’m talking about.  Æbleskiver is heaven-sent breakfast: puffy little balls of pancake with a sweet surprise in the middle, finished off with a delicate dusting of powdered sugar and a side of raspberry jam.  Æbleskiver is Danish for “apple slices”, but you’re more likely to bite into a strawberry or a fruit-compote filling instead.  Three Little Griddles also offers Æbleskiver with an egg/bacon filling, coated with a maple-syrup glaze and powdered sugar.  A complete breakfast!

NOT Æbleskiver

If you haven’t heard of Æbleskiver and the first thing you thought of was “doughnut hole”, shame on you.  Doughnut holes don’t even qualify as poor man’s Æbleskiver.  Doughnut holes are a clever product designed to get you to buy more when it appears you’re buying less (think “fun-size” candy bars).  I have two issues with doughnut holes.  One, they’re not actually the “hole” of a solid doughnut, but prepared and baked separately instead.  Two, they’re not shaped like a doughnut hole should be (picture it – something more like the hub of a wheel).  They should be called doughnut balls.  But enough of this talk; I’m wasting words.  Let’s keep the focus on Æbleskiver.

My first taste of Æbleskiver came when I was little, in the Central California village of Solvang.  Solvang is like, well, a kid’s “Little Denmark” – a town small enough to walk around, with an overabundance of shops selling toys, candy, and ice cream.  Several windmills spin slowly above Solvang’s high-pitched shingle rooftops.  A church sits prominently on the edge of town.  A small park serves as the town square, complete with a bandstand-sized gazebo.  All that’s missing is some water-filled canals and cobble-stoned streets.  But meanwhile, there’s plenty of Æbleskiver.  Some restaurants even bake them out on the sidewalk, rotating those little dream puffs to perfection in their unique iron skillets.

If you credit the Danes with the invention of ball-shaped food, the rest of the world takes a distant second with its imitations.  China makes a spherical egg-based fruit-filled waffle called Gai Daan Jai.  Japan makes a variety of savory ball-sized snacks called Takoyaki. (Savory? Yuck.)  And America makes doughnut holes called Munchkins.

As if Æbleskiver isn’t cool enough as a food, it’s also a cool word with a unique spelling (note the “letter” Æ).  Perhaps Starbucks will start carrying it, along with the egg bites.  I’d buy both and a coffee for a complete breakfast.

Finally, if Æbleskiver has you wondering what other delights Denmark has to offer, consider ÆblekageÆblekage is “apple charlotte” – stewed sweetened apples layered with butter-roasted bread crumbs and crushed makroner (an almond-flavored meringue), topped with whipped cream and red currant jelly.  Oh my; sounds like dream stuff.

Æblekage

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

The Meal of Champions

Last weekend my family and I had breakfast at a small place in downtown Denver called “Syrup”. Syrup’s menu includes breakfast and lunch, but make no mistake; breakfast is king here. I chose the Eggs Benedict with corned beef hash, and all of us shared the Cinnamon Roll Waffle flight – a delight to the senses.  It was a breakfast to savor.

28- breakfast

Breakfast has always been my favorite meal, or should I say breakfast “out”.  People always say “really?”, but I never hear them go on to say whether lunch or dinner is their favorite.  Lunch is the neglected and oft overlooked meal of the three – perhaps a topic of its own for a future blog.  Dinner represents 95% of what people mean when they recommend a restaurant.  Maybe that’s what makes breakfast so endearing to me.  It’s the most compact of the meals.  Breakfast has its essentials and therefore creativity can only go so far.  Dinner has no boundaries, but breakfast can go very wrong if you stray from the expected.

I’ve sampled several of the more exotic approaches to breakfast.  I’ve been to the Cafe du Monde in New Orleans for the famous coffee au lait and French-style beignets (fried dough topped with enough powdered sugar to sneeze at).  I’ve been to the little Danish town of Solvang, California for aebleskivers (pancake balls with fruit in the middle).  I’ve even toured the Kellogg’s factory in Michigan, and to this day I still can resurrect the smell of cooked corn flakes.  Put all that aside though, because breakfast for me comes down to just a few essentials on the plate.  Eggs any style.  Bacon or sausage (the requisite “protein”).  And toast or some other form of carb load.  At breakfast “out” the eggs may become an omelet or a skillet or a scramble.  The bacon may be applewood-smoked and the sausage will have a hint of sage.  The toast usually runs a distant second to a freshly-made waffle or fruit-topped pancake.  But dress it down and the plate looks pretty much the same as what I prepare for myself at home.

I like breakfast because I’m a morning person (though not one of those restless souls who make it to 5am yoga).  I also like breakfast because virtually everything on the menu appeals to me.  Except bananas.  If I ever opened a breakfast place you’d have to bring your own bananas.

Sunday brunch is not only a favorite meal but a favorite activity.  I associate Sunday brunch with family and with special occasions like Easter and Mother’s Day.  I love dressing up for church and going to brunch after the service.  I love the serve-yourself aspect of brunch – the more options to savor the better.  But the “unch” in brunch gets no love from me.  As my family will attest to, my plate is always 100% breakfast.

I never understood the term “American breakfast” until college, when I spent a year abroad in Rome.  I love the Italians and their “dolce vita” way of life.  They perfected the coffee bar concept long before it became a staple in America.  But they never gave breakfast it’s proper due.  Indeed, “breakfast” in Italy is a small cup of espresso and a hard, barely-sweet roll, downed hastily at the counter before rushing off to wherever it is one is going.  No eggs or bacon or pancakes.  What’s the fun in that?

In Ireland breakfast essentials include tomatoes and blood sausage.  I can’t come to terms with vegetables for breakfast, and blood sausage shouldn’t even be mentioned in a post about breakfast.  Again, no fun on that plate.

Here’s an example of breakfast fun.  In the classic movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang my favorite scene is with the breakfast machine.  Dick Van Dyke’s character creates the magical car of course, but he also creates a contraption that cooks and distributes eggs, sausage, and toast, all while the breakfast plate moves along a heated track, eventually rolling down to the table ready to eat.  Genius.

Breakfast places – at least in Colorado – are a born-again trend these days.  Rather than Denny’s or Waffle House we now choose from “Over Easy” or “Snooze” or “The Egg & I”.  And in the ultimate nod to my favorite meal, McDonald’s recently changed their menu to include All Day Breakfast.  I think McDonald’s gets my drift.  Breakfast is not just “the most important meal of the day”.  It’s the one that should be on the menu morning, noon, and night.