Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

On Breakfast

A meal I have just finished.

There are people who cannot face food before noon. I married one of them. Then there are people like me, who aren't fully awake until they've eaten. And had coffee.

Coffee is essential.

I began drinking coffee as a youngster. My grandfather got me hooked. It happened like this: I spent the weekends at my grandparents' apartment. They had set eating rituals, including snacking after 11:00 news on Stella D'Oro cookies and coffee. From there they retired to bed, sleeping soundly despite the coffee.

My Grandfather usually woke first, and bustled about fixing Cream of Wheat with tons of butter and salt. I was an adult before I realized people sweetened hot cereal. And he made more coffee, with lots of cream and saccharine. He was diabetic, and in those days one bought saccharine from the pharmacy in little glass bottles with blue tops.

We sat down to this meal and tucked in. I loved it so much that at nine, I decided to give my parents' coffeemaker a whirl at breakfast time. I've been drinking coffee ever since.

During my teens my coffee habit grew to six cups a day. This was long before the Starbucks revolution or Fair Trade Organic or Peets or Blue Bottle. This was Yuban into the old pot. I drank it with sugar and cream unless it was after dinner. Then I took it black.

Of course that much coffee has a deleterious effect, even on the very young. So it was I developed an ulcer and was told to lay off the coffee. I cut down to one cup. And there I stay. I don't smoke, I don't do drugs, I exercise, I drink moderately. I am NOT giving up coffee.

So there I was this morning, with my coffee (Illy, made in a crummy pot), toasted bagel, and cream-cheese substitute.

I have eaten the same breakfast for years: a bagel with cream cheese. The bagel in California are awful. Nobody west of Chicago can get them right. I compensate for this by toasting, which does not solve the problem but helps mask it.

I used Philadelphia Cream Cheese for centuries, until one day at Berkeley Bowl when I discovered Nancy's Cream Cheese, which, in addition to being politically correct, has lots of yogurt-type good bacteria. I bought some, and was soon hooked on it. Nancy's is not as firm as Philadelphia--no guar gum, I guess--but has a tangy, bright flavor. But in the past couple months Nancy's has suffered. I don't know what happened or why, but the cream cheese is now so runny it's more like pourable cream. It still tastes good, but it's impossible to spread on a bagel.

Last week I searched the market for substitutes. There was Philadelphia. Organic Valley had sold out. Maybe a bunch of irate Nancy's customers cleaned out the supply.

It was then I remembered yogurt cheese.

Yogurt cheese is made by straining yogurt through cheesecloth into a bowl. The whey slowly drips out, leaving firm yogurt cheese behind. One may add any number of things to yogurt cheese: lemon, herbs, garlic. You can then serve this alongside Middle Eastern or Indian style meals, or, if you are me, take it to work and eat it with a spoon. All those happy bacteria are good for your gut, and there's lots of calcium, too.

I reasoned I might be able to create a Nancy's substitute. So I bought a pint of Straus Organic whole yogurt, which is made in Marin Country and about as pc as you can get, and dumped it into a strainer. This morning I spooned out a little and spread it on a waiting bagel.

It tasted like yogurt on a bagel. But I am undeterred. I ate my yogurt bagel up. Then I cut some fresh cheesecloth, transferred the cheese to it, and weighted it down with a bowl. The entire mess is now in the fridge: a towel covering a small bowl, resting atop cheesecloth-covered-yogurt cheese resting in a strainer sitting in large Pyrex bowl. This sounds like the culinary equivalent of Supercalifragilisticexpealidocius; the intention is further cheese firming.

The bottom of the Pyrex bowl is filled with whey. Some people use this whey to bake bread or pickle vegetables. I am not that advanced yet. I throw my whey away. (take that, voice recognition software!)

The outcome remains indeterminate. Should Organic Valley stock up, I may abandon my cream cheese exploits. But Philadelphia is out. After years of eating natural stuff, Philly tastes wrong. Off. Like, well, guar gum.

If all else fails, I will resort to butter. The Sunday bagels of my childhood, piled with cream cheese, Nova Lox, onion, and tomato will take on Proustian overtones. Though, alas, I don't expect I'll be dipping one into my coffee any time soon.


Blogger Darby M. Dixon III said...

"Coffee is essential."

Undeniably and undebatably.

Also? I think I need some bagels. Like, now.

January 07, 2007 7:01 PM  
Blogger Barking Kitten said...

yes, but where you live you might be to get decent ones. And I am jealous. Jealous!

January 08, 2007 12:01 PM  

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