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The Myrtle Reed Cook Book
PHILOSOPHY OF BREAKFAST
The breakfast habit is of antique origin. Presumably the primeval man arose from troubled dreams, in the first gray light of dawn, and set forth upon devious forest trails, seeking that which he might devour, while the primeval woman still slumbered in her cave. Nowadays, it is the lady herself who rises while the day is yet young, slips into a kimono, and patters out into the kitchen to light the gas flame under the breakfast food.
In this matter of breaking the fast, each house is law unto itself. There are some who demand a dinner at seven or eight in the morning, and others who consider breakfast utterly useless. The Englishman, who is still mighty on the face of the earth, eats a breakfast which would seriously tax the digestive apparatus of an ostrich or a goat, and goes on his way rejoicing.
In an English cook-book only seven years old, menus for "ideal" breakfasts are given, which run as follows:
"Devilled Drum-sticks and Eggs on the dish, Pigs Feet, Buttered Toast, Dry Toast, Brown and White Bread and Butter, Marmalade and Porridge."
"Bloaters on Toast, Collared Tongue, Hot Buttered Toast, Dry Toast, Marmalade, Brown and White Bread and Butter, Bread and Milk."
"Pigeon Pie, Stewed Kidney, Milk Rolls, Dry Toast, Brown and White Bread and Butter, Mustard and Cress, Milk Porridge."
And for a "simple breakfast," — in August, mind you I this is especially recommended:
"Bloaters on Toast, Corned Beef, Muffins, Brown and White Bread and Butter, Marmalade, and Boiled Hominy."
An American who ate a breakfast like that in August probably would not send his collars to the laundry more than once or twice more, but it takes all kinds of people to make up a world.
Across the Channel from the brawny Briton is the Frenchman, who, with infinitely more wisdom, begins his day with a cup of coffee and a roll. So far, so good, but his déjeuner la faurchette at eleven or twelve is not always unobjectionable from a hygienic standpoint. The "uniform breakfast," which is cheerfully advocated by some, may be hygienic but it is not exciting. Before the weary mental vision stretches an endless procession of breakfasts, all exactly alike, year in and year out. It is quite possible that the "no-breakfast" theory was first formulated by some one who bad been, was, or was about to be a victim of this system.
The "no-breakfast" plan has much to recommend it, however. In the first place, it saves a deal of trouble. The family rises, bathes itself, puts on its spotless raiment in leisurely and untroubled fashion, and proceeds to the particular business of the day. There are no burnt toast, soggy waffles, muddy coffee, heavy muffins, or pasty breakfast food to be reckoned with. Theoretically, the energy supplied by last night's dinner is "on tap," waiting to be called upon. And, moreover, one is seldom hungry in the morning, and what is the use of feeding a person who is not hungry?
It has been often said, and justly, that Americans eat too much. Considering the English breakfast, however, we may metaphorically pat ourselves upon the back, for there is no one of us, surely, who taxes the Department of the Interior thus.
"What is one man's meat is another man's poison" has been held pointedly to refer to breakfast, for here, as nowhere else, is the individual a law unto himself. Fruit is the satisfaction of one and the distress of another; cereal is a life-giving food to one and a soggy mass of indigestibility to some one else; and coffee, which is really most innocent when properly made, has lately taken much blame for sins not its own.
Quite often the discomfort caused by the ill-advised combination of acid fruit with a starchy cereal has been attributed to the clear, amber beverage which probably was the much-vaunted "nectar of the gods." Coffee with cream in it may be wrong for some people who could use boiling milk with impunity. For a woman who spends the early part of the day at home, the omission of breakfast may be salutary. When hunger seizes her, she is within reach of her own kitchen, where proper foods may be properly cooked, but for a business woman or man the plan is little less than suicidal. Mr. Man may, indeed, go down town in comfort, with no thought of food, but, no later than noon, he is keenly desirous of interior decoration. Within his reach there is, usually, but the lunch counter, where, in company with other hapless humans, be sustains himself with leathery pie, coffee which never met the coffee bean, and the durable doughnut of commerce. The result is — to put it mildly — discontent, which seemingly has no adequate cause.
It is better, by far, for Mr. Man to eat a breakfast which shall contain the proteids, carbohydrates, phosphates, and starches that be will require during the day, and omit the noon luncheon entirely, except, perhaps, for a bit of fruit. Moreover, a dainty breakfast, daintily served, has a distinct aesthetic value. The temper of the individual escorted to the front door by a devoted spouse has more than a little to do with the temper of the selfsame individual who is let in at night by the aforesaid D. S.
Many a man is confronted in the morning by an untidy, ill-cooked breakfast, a frowsy woman and a still frowsier baby, and, too often, by querulous whinings and complaints.
The ancient Britons had a pleasing arrangement which they called "The Truce of God." By this, there was no fighting whatever, no matter what the provocation, between sunset on Wednesday and sunrise on Monday. This gave time for other affairs, and for the exercise of patience, toleration, and other virtues of the same ilk.
Many a household might take a leaf from this book to good advantage. Settle all differences after dinner, since at no time of the day is man in more reasonable mood, and ordain a "Truce of God" from dawn until after dinner.
No dinner, however beautifully cooked and served, no fine raiment, however costly and becoming, can ever atone, in the memory of a man, for the wild and untamed morning which too often prevails in the American household.
His mind, distraught with business cares, harks back to his home — with pleasure? None too often, more's the pity.
Some one has said that, in order to make a gentleman, one must begin with the grandfather. It is equally true that a good and proper breakfast begins the night before — or, better yet, the morning before.
Careful, systematic planning in advance lightens immeasurably the burden of housekeeping, and, many a time, makes the actual work nothing but fun. Those who have tried the experiment of planning meals for the entire week are enthusiastic in praise of the system. It secures variety, simplifies marketing, arranges for left-overs, and gives many an hour of peace and comfort which could not be had otherwise.
Even if a woman be her own maid, as, according to statistics, eighty-five per cent of us are, a dainty, hygienic, satisfying breakfast is hers and her lord's for little more than the asking. By careful preparation in advance, the morning labor is reduced to a minimum; by the Intelligent use of lists and memoranda, the weary and reluctant body is saved many an unnecessary step.
An alarm clock of the "intermittent" sort insures early rising, a dash of cold water on the face is a physical and mental tonic of the most agreeable kind, and one hour in the morning is worth two at night, as the grandmothers of all of us have often said.
Fruit, usually, may be prepared for serving the night before, and will be improved by a few hours in the refrigerator. Cereals should be soaked over night in the water in which they are to be cooked, and a few hours' cooking in the afternoon will injure very few cereals destined for the breakfast table the next morning. Codfish balls and many other things will be none the worse for a night's waiting; the table can be set, and everything made ready for a perfect breakfast, which half an hour of intelligent effort in the morning will readily evolve.
A plea is made for the use of the chafing-dish, which is fully as attractive at the breakfast table as in the "wee sma' hours" in which it usually shines; for a white apron instead of a gingham one when "my lady" is also the cook; far a crisp, clean shirt-waist instead of an abominable dressing-sack; for smooth, tidy hair, instead of unkempt locks; for a collar and a belt, and a persistent, if determined, cheerfulness.
In the long run, these things pay, and with compound interest at that. They involve a certain amount of labor, a great deal of careful planning, eternal getting-up when it is far more pleasant to abide in dreamland, quite often a despairing weariness, if not a headache, and no small draft upon one's power of self-denial and self-sacrifice.
But be who goes In the morning from a quiet, comfortable, well-ordered house, with a pleasant memory of the presiding genius of his hearthstone, is twice the man that his fellow may be, whose wife breakfasts at ten in her bed, or, frowsy and unkempt, whines at him from across a miserable breakfast — twice as well fitted for the ceaseless grind of an exhausting day in the business arena, whence be returns at night, footsore, weary, and depressed, to the four walls wherein he abides.
So shines a good deed in a naughty world."
To some, this may seem an undue stress laid upon the material side of existence, but the human animal needs animal comforts even more than his brother of forest and field, and from such humble beginnings great things may come, not the least of which is the fine, spiritual essence of a happy home.