Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, March 6, 2016
I am eating cereal, something I rarely do these days, but the cupboards are bare, so I am shoveling it in standing up, contemplating the nature of Os and going into a familiar routine I call The Visiting Alien, this time honing in on cereal and breakfast.
Here I am, eating a bowl of finely groundup non-wheat formed into the shape of rings that are floating in nuts that have been pressed into a white milky pool of liquid. Should I have two pieces of puffed up slabs of non-wheat that I slide into a vertical cooker and slather with fat, or one? What kind of hairless animal am I, and what is this thing called a spoon? How did I get here?
How can such a box of airy cardboard line an entire aisle of something called a food store, be deemed sustenance, and cost $3.99 for about 12 cents’ worth of ingredients? And then we inject it into our bloodstream right after a jangly beeping alarms us into morning consciousness?
Cereal box graphics are the baseball cards of my youth. Corn Flakes, Grape Nuts, Cap’n Crunch, Quisp and Quake, Rice Krispies, and all the rest. My father occasionally eats Bran Buds, the closest thing to particleboard single-stomached bipeds can endure. And my mom, a French woman for whom cereal is just one more mysterious mainstay of a young and misguided nation, pours boiling water over her Shredded Wheat, drains it, and eats the soft paste hot (which is quite good, actually, with a little cream and sugar).
I am never anything more than a serial cereal eater, going from one brand to the next, never truly and completely satisfied. I am a fickle breakfast eater, as well, a penchant my daughter inherits at a young age, with her smoothie periods, fried egg periods and oatmeal periods. She recently reminded me, shaking her head, that we actually fed her French baguette and a bowl of hot chocolate for months on end one year.
This glycemic felony, instigated and committed over and over by me, has to do with my own nostalgia, my own French-girl years, my own bowls of chocolat chaud and tartines. At least she doesn’t have Carnation Instant Breakfast period to recover from. Nor has she endured the great Tang swindle, the sugary orange drink of astronauts. (“Tang sucks.” —Buzz Aldrin.)
Maybe I have been a fickle breakfast eater because I am still looking for the perfect morning meal. Not that there have not been some that stood out; there have been many.
Best service: Amsterdam. Delivered by the hotel owner up steep stairs on an antique tray, in a room full of antiques.
Most surprising: Breakfast served to 900 daily at Disneyland Paris. Fantastic coffee out of machines. And people of all nationalities breaking the rules and making sandwiches out of the breakfast cold cuts as they head into the fray.
Most nerve wracking: Navajo Lake, many years ago, as four of us fire up the espresso pot before climbing El Diente, my first 14er, crampons and ice axes in hand.
Most beautifully wheat-free: Chewy tapioca pancakes and fried eggs in Rio, and thick delicious juices made of mysterious fruits.
Most plentiful: Breakfast buffet at The Lodge at Vail. Gigantic bowls of berries, a sushi station, a smoked fish station and everything else under the sun. By day two, we are jaded. Lesson learned.
Most comforting: Buttered bagel and a coffee, light, from the coffee shop near my job in New York. The bagel is buttered, then toasted on the grill. The coffee, of course, comes in a Greek “Happy to serve you” cup.
Most deeply rooted: Boxed tartines (ready-made toast) and hot chocolate at my grandmother’s small house in Cognac, age 5 or 6. Walking around on the cold tiles with my woolen slippers on, feeling utterly content.
Most consistently thrilling: Any cup of coffee or tea sipped outdoors, first thing, in the morning chill of the mountains.
Most perfect, to date: A big café on the west coast of France, with a black and white tiled floor, at least a hundred chairs, a shiny brass bar, chandeliers and waiters in white jackets. Café au lait, assorted croissants and brioches with butter and jams, and orange juice. Comes with watching the world go by, and it never, ever disappoints, despite piles of wheat.
Nowadays, of course, there are trendy breakfast options for even the most fickle. Ultra juices, smoothie bowls, overnight oats, breakfast parfaits, chia puddings, anything with matcha, savory pancakes, breakfast cookies, avocado toast, Paleo breads.
Me, I have been thinking for many years of a traditional Japanese breakfast. Rice, miso soup, fermented soybean, rolled egg, maybe fish, and green tea. It may mean simply that I have scores and scores of mornings of sugar to counteract. Or — better by far — it may mean a trip is in my future. #hopeso