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What do you eat for breakfast? November 14, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I just read an article on Yahoo! about how Canadian researchers had discovered that fast-food breakfast sandwiches (you know, the ones with an egg, cheese and ham) constricted the bloodflow in even otherwise healthy twentysomethings after they ate one. Twentysomethings! After they ate one. Listen up, folks, especially if you’re not in your twenties and are concerned about your vascular health, not to mention belly fat and metabolic syndrome. (Dementia was also mentioned, but I don’t even want to go there.) Skip the breakfast sandwich and you might just be skipping increased risk for heart attack, stroke and diabetes.

Even worse, the article went on, was to skip breakfast altogether, which led to a21% weight increase, more belly fat, and metabolic syndrome (the precursor to type 2 diabetes). So okay, what should you eat for breakfast? Eggs, bacon and toast? A fat pile of pancakes or waffles smothered in syrup? Grits, eggs over easy, and biscuits? French toast and a fruit compote? The author suggested whole-grain cereal and fat-free milk or plain fat-free yogurt.

Well, sorry, I beg to differ. With apologies to whole-grain shredded wheat, boxed breakfast cereal reminds me forcibly of dry dogfood. It may be high in fiber and nutrients, but who’d actually want to eat it? Give me a nice slice of delicious whole-grain bread anytime, accompanied by an apple and some cheese. Protein, fiber, vitamins: What’s not to love?!

But this past weekend, I encountered someone who ate the world’s healthiest breakfast, a breakfast I’d be happy to embrace (assuming our friend Ben could be talked into it; his idea of a great breakfast is fried eggs or a cheese omelette, rye toast, home fries, sauteed apples, and bacon and/or sausage). I was in Nashville visiting my father and his partner Alice, and we went to one of my favorite restaurants there, Anatolia, a Turkish restaurant.

As longtime readers know, my appetite isn’t likely to rival Paul Bunyan’s, or even a normal American’s. I love my food, but can’t eat much of it at a time. So I thank God daily for take-home containers, and when I eat out, plan what I order with the inevitable container in mind. At Anatolia, I’m always torn between the delicious vegetarian options: hummus and baba ghannouj, a thick seasoned yogurt and pita, falafel, an assortment of Turkish-inspired salads, and vegetarian soups, stews, and entrees. It’s unwise to pass over the hot, delicious homemade whole-grain bread with dipping oil and herbs that makes a complimentary appearance on every table.

I don’t doubt for a moment that the veggie entrees are delicious, but I confess I’ve never had one. I absolutely love the appetizers and salads (not to mention the house bread), and have never been able to forgo them in favor of a main course. I love their hummus, their take on baba ghannouj, their seasoned yogurt, their yummy salads, their falafel. But best of all, I love something I’ve never encountered anywhere else. I don’t even know the name of this appetizer, but to me, it’s perfect: phyllo dough wrapped cigar-fashion around feta cheese, crisped up, and served with rose-petal honey as a dipping sauce. The crunch of the phyllo wrapper, the hot, salty, melting feta inside, the luscious honey and gorgeous color of the dipping sauce: perfect. Sweet, salty, melting, crunchy: What more is there to say?!

Well, something about breakfast. One of the brothers who co-own Anatolia also happened to be our waiter last Saturday night. He was very familiar with my father and Alice, and had doubtless seen me on numerous past occasions as well. I don’t know if it was my order or my enthusiasm, but whatever the case, he loosened up and began talking about Turkish cuisine, and in particular, Turkish breakfasts. He pointed out that bread was the heart of every Turkish meal. (By which of course he meant hot, fresh-from-the oven, hearty homemade bread and pita, not nasty, nutrient-free, squishy Wonderbread-style “balloon bread.”) And the hot breakfast bread was accompanied by thick, plain yogurt for dipping and a simple fresh salad, such as the one I’d just ordered, with crunchy Romaine lettuce, cucumbers, ripe tomatoes, and onion, topped with some crumbled feta and an olive oil and lemon vinaigrette.

Yum! This sounded good to me, and as I left the restaurant with my typical array of takeout containers, I decided to try it the following morning. I warmed the bread in the toaster oven, brought the yogurt dip and salad to room temperature, dressed the salad and drizzled a little olive oil and an herb mix over the bread, and sat down to enjoy my morning meal while my father and Alice politely pretended that they didn’t see what I was doing. (As the sole family vegetarian, I’ve become quite used to this over the years.) It was delicious and inarguably nutritious, and not greasy and too filling like other breakfasts I could name. I was convinced. The next morning, sadly without either Anatolia leftovers or access to a grocery, I had a slice of multigrain bread with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and salt and some sliced cukes and ripe heirloom tomatoes (Nashville’s still getting them, and aren’t all of us jealous?!), topped with crumbled feta and a little oil, salt and cracked black pepper. I loved it.

I don’t like, have never liked, a cold breakfast. Cold breakfast cereal makes me think of sickeningly sweet cardboard. I do love freshly made, thick, hot grits, drenched in butter and topped with ample salt and pepper, but there’s no way I can convince myself that this is healthy fare. I’d bet even the fast-food breakfast sandwich would win hands-down, and even without the biscuit. I also love hot oatmeal, which actually is good for you, and I finally figured out how to make it fast and fabulous without sacrificing flavor or nutrients.

Here’s the trick. First, never, ever buy so-called “instant” oatmeal or oatmeal that’s been doctored with endless junk and turned into candy. But hey, you don’t want to stand over the stove stirring a gluey pot of oatmeal while you’re racing to feed everyone and rush out the door? No worries. Buy plain “quick”—not instant—oatmeal. Pour boiling water over it. The end! It cooks just as fast as the “instant” stuff, and you get all the flavor, texture, and nutrients. Eat it with slivered almonds, fat-free milk, and a little maple syrup, or skip the syrup and stir in your favorite dried fruit. Trust me, you’ll be smiling on the outside because the oatmeal is so yummy, and smiling on the inside because you know it’s so good for you.

As for me, I think I’m going to be stocking up on plain Greek yogurt, pita, ripe tomatoes, and feta.

             ‘Til next time,