“BREAKFAST is the only meal of the day that I tend to view with the same traditionalized reverence that most people associate with lunch and dinner. I like to eat breakfast alone, and almost never before noon; anybody with a terminally jangled lifestyle needs at least one psychic anchor every twenty-four hours… the food factor should always be massive: four Bloody Marys, two grapefruit, a pot of coffee, Rangoon crepes, a half-pound of either sausage, bacon, or corned-beef hash with diced chiles, a Spanish omelet or eggs Benedict, a quart of milk, a chopped lemon for random seasoning, and something like a slice ofkey lime pie, two margaritas, and six lines of the best cocaine for dessert… Right, and there should also be two or three newspapers, all mail and messages, two telephones, two notebooks for planning the next twenty-four house and at least one source of good music…”
- Hunter S. Thompson
There is a common bond between egg and potato. Indeed, their fates are divided, as it is possible that one would someday walk if incubation weren’t interrupted, while the other, left alone, would only continue brooding in the dark, its eyes pressed to the mulch. But if not for their shape, then their secrecy, does their union become apparent. “Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken,” says M.F.K. Fisher in Alphabet for Gourmets. And the potato, equally pallid and blank, requires an unearthing as violent as the cracking of a shell, and a reluctance just as innocent. They deserve to share a plate, then, especially in the service of breakfast. Not for health, as coupled they lack most nutritional tenets, but for the secrets they relinquish in digestion. And the secrets are many, and so are the mornings: so this is how Lily and I first ate.
In Bed-Stuy there was only one good cup of coffee, a café called Choice on Lafayette and Grand, where you had to stand in a long noisy line, only to have your order pitched at you by the angry Francophones behind the register. I caught Lily leaving Choice one day with a hot cup in her hand. Deeply-browed, shaved head, great posture; we’d hardly spoken before, but her taste in establishments was enough. And she, or I, insisted we dine there together the following Saturday, and we did: displayed behind glass while we waited to place our orders were little, glossy tarts, pastel-blue macaroons, chocolate twists, filbert-and-crumb crusted salmon cobbler, platters of cooked vegetables tossed in a cool, vinegar salad, and plump, orangey croissants. Lily ordered the quiche-of-the-day (let’s say broccoli, mushroom and Swiss) and I, the spinach omelet with sweet cream and spiced potatoes, served atop hydroponic lettuce in a pastry box. We got an Americano each and ate from our laps on a bench outside. “Oh, God,” I said, taking a bite and again, “Oh, God.” Lily chewed graciously and we needed not mince words. This was every Saturday thereafter, and maybe the first time either of us had truly eaten since moving to the city.
There was a small, gray room at the end of our residence hall that smelled like the inside of a State Park bathroom, equipped with four electric burners and a filmy basin. It looked out onto a parking lot, from which we viewed a number of apartment fires over the year. We only ever had enough money to buy the same things when we made dinner together, which we began doing after that first Saturday: quinoa, a bag of spinach or a can of Indian spiced Saag, a carton of curried lentil broth, garlic, some bread, egg-in-a-hole, and the same canister of table salt we used through the first year and applied by pouring directly into our palms and rubbing the grains into the hot pan. Sometimes we had a pat of butter, and later my mother sent me a box of spices by post but she forgot the turmeric which was the most important one. It was not that we were poor—we were two floors apart in student housing—we sat on the floor and ate from our bowls because we wanted to. On weekday mornings, we’d make oatmeal the way my boss at the organic grocery up the street had instructed:
Radhames’ Special Oatmeal
1 Cup water
½ Cup whole milk 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 Cup rolled oats 1 tsp. vanilla extract, salt
Bring water to boil in a small sauce pan. Add salt, 1 tsp. cinnamon, and vanilla extract. Stir gently. Add more if you want. The man himself would insist,“It’s all about the timing.” When bubbles start to form, pour in milk. Bring to boil again. Stir, slowly now. Add oats, turn heat to Lo and let sit for 5 minutes with a tight lid. Add rest of cinnamon at the end, and any nuts or dried fruit (just a raisin, a walnut or two), dislodge with a fork, twirl around and salt to taste. It should be rich and seeped with flavor. It should be obvious that it was cooked in a broth of love.
The morning after Lily quit smoking, as a consolation prize, we got up early to by tamales from a woman who sold them out of a shopping cart on Myrtle Avenue. It was drizzling, but a poncho had been fastened over the steaming husks, and we bought three. When fall came, there were the apple cider doughnuts at the farmers markets, the splurge on a fresh, brown egg or two; the weekend we visitedBaltimoreand D.C. and ate nothing but fancy Italian antipasti. Plus theice cream place on St. Marks with flavors like sesame and corn (we both ordered pistachio); and the innumerable faces outside the common kitchen, with our meager ingredients; and all of us studying literature. One night, Lily and I ran into the two quietest girls in our class on the street, and the four of us decided to get drinks. The quiet girls and I shared a pitcher of Bud, but for Lily, glass after glass of Jameson, and we grew louder. We shared a window sill that faced the table, and were carried off be each other, the girls in our wake. We laughed all the way back to her room and watched Shirley Templemovies and woke up in the morning—the most beautiful, rich November morning streaming through the thermal windows and I woke up in her bed and asked if she’d go on a walk with me. Arm in arm she read to me from Diane DiPrima’s Dinners and Nightmares, which she’d been carrying around in her coat pocket since I met her, and we knew something about food, and feeding, and the written instruction and seduction of such, and we knew something about New York City, the toasted alleys and gutted charms, and by the blessing of being nineteen, holding the conviction, all evidence to the contrary not withstanding, that nothing quite like this had ever happened to anyone else.
M.F.K Fisher says she writes about food because “like everyone else, she is hungry,” but also because at the center of all physical hungers are the psychic ones, too, and thus, necessarily, the consummation of them. It does not create the tension, but sharpens both personal and historical tension where it already exists. And it is a lens that Lily and I are looking through often. Lily the potato, and I, the egg.