Breakfast

portugal.jpg"I just returned from Lisbon and only have one thing to say - Belem Pasteis de Nata"

Thanks to a reader for reminding me of what is the can't miss taste of Lisbon. While there are wonderful wines, tasty sausages, perfect cups of espresso and crispy salt cod fritters that all deserve your attention, you haven't truly experienced Lisbon until you have made it through the winding labyrinth of the cafe and bakery, Pasteis de Belem, in a pretty waterfront neighborhood of Lisbon and had a few fresh warm pastries.

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ihop2.jpg Before there was IHOP, there was Gwynn’s. 

When I was a kid in suburban Teaneck, New Jersey, it was always a treat to go for Sunday brunch with my family at Gwynn’s on Teaneck Road.  Gwynn’s seemed swanky and grown-up to me.  Outside, it was painted white brick, and inside it was cool and darkish, with comfy booths.  My mother would order her coffee, and the cream came in tiny, glass pitchers with little round cardboard pull-tabs on top.  She only used a drop and then gave me the supreme pleasure of letting me drink the rest of the cream from its miniature jar.  Sometimes, if she had a second cup, I got another taste of the thick, heavenly liquid that would contribute to the need for Lipitor years later.  Compared to my very picky little sister, who ate only cream cheese and jelly, I was “a good eater” with a passion for pancakes, waffles and French toast.

chippancakes.jpg Then, in the mid 60’s, across town on Cedar Lane, a new place opened up, part of a chain that seemed to be popping up all over America: the International House of Pancakes.  People were talking about it, and my cousins three towns away had already been to another one and were jazzed.  It didn’t have Gwynn’s sophistication or my beloved mini-pots of cream, but on our first visit, I discovered silver dollar pancakes – a plateful of glorious, child-sized, golden ducats.  I was hooked!  Soon thereafter, chocolate chip pancakes appeared on the menu, and I became an under-age chocoholic.

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bakedeggs.jpgMy ideal breakfast is baked eggs, a nice thick ham steak and wondrously high popovers, this is the food that makes Sunday mornings so special and different from the other 6 days. Sundays are the time to slowdown and reflect on your week and your loved ones in your non formal pajamas for hours. A nice and slow day...

When we were kids my Mother always made baked eggs, that is what she called them. The English like to call them shirred eggs, but the concept is exactly the same. Because it is a dish based in the 60’s we start with a Pyrex custard cup, you know the clear glass cups that hold 7 or 8 ounces, cups that were basic kitchen equipment before we all got so sophisticated.

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pancake.jpgIn the summer of 1966 I worked as a dishwasher in a summer camp near Hunter Mountain in upstate New York. This was in the pre-automatic dishwasher days meaning dirty dishes were dumped in a super hot sink of soapy water and washed and dried by hand. I used to come in around 6 a.m. to clean the breakfast pots and pans. Henry, a very tall, rail thin man who had been a cook in World War II in Europe, had gotten there at least an hour before me; I usually found him smoking a filterless cigarette and slowly beating  powdered eggs and water in a huge stainless steel bowl or ladling out pancakes on the football field-size griddle.

Though he was cooking for well over 150 people every morning he never seemed to be in a rush. Though there was no air conditioning and an eight burner stove going full blast, Henry barely broke a sweat. I started sweating from the moment I got there; and being a not very bright 14-year-old, I often compounded my problems by forgetting to use an oven mitt when picking up a hot pan or getting scalding hot water in my rubber washing gloves.

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asparagus-egg-bake.jpgLarge pans filled with a billowy mixture of oven-baked eggs, bread and vegetables is always a good choice for breakfast when you need to feed a crowd of hungry sleepyheads. But what about feeding just two people who love to sleep in on a cool, cloudy, drizzly no-work-day morning? Just have a couple of ramekins of Asparagus Egg Bake in the refrigerator.

While the water is heating for the French press and bacon is sizzling in a cast-iron skillet on the stove, two ramekins filled to the top with layers of chunks of English muffins, cheese, eggs, asparagus and chives can be baking in the oven. What a way to start the day.

Several spears of fresh asparagus that had been roasted to eat with grilled steaks were in a zip-top bag in the refrigerator when I decided to put together a couple of breakfast dishes to have on hand during the long holiday weekend. In the refrigerator, I knew they would be good for a few days, if necessary.

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