When the Atkins Diet crashed upon America’s shores with its wave of red meat and energy bars, I thought I was too smart to believe anything it claimed. After all, I don’t even believe in dieting per se — just that you should try to eat healthy foods and consume fat, sugary, and processed foods in moderation. But even now, when the Atkins wave has long receded, and Paleo is hopefully on the wane, I was surprised to find that a bit of its flash-in-the-pan advice had stuck in my head: I should avoid carbohydrates. Wait, I’m sorry: carbs.
Now, logically I know this isn’t true. After all, six ounces of steak is never going to be healthier than six ounces of brown rice. But still, every time I want to eat a bread product, something tugs at me: Isn’t this bad for me? That’s why, when I do eat bread products, I always try to do two things — eat something that’s made with whole wheat flour, and make it myself.
That’s the primary reason why I make my own bagels: I feel like if I put the effort into making them, they’re better for me. But homemade bagels are also pretty damn delicious. How delicious, exactly? Well, not too long ago, my roommate’s boyfriend came into my room clutching the last bits of a bagel I had just made. “This made me fall in love with you,” he said.
Few food subjects rouse the emotions of Texans like the Tex-Mex morning staple — the breakfast taco.
In Austin specifically, breakfast tacos are ubiquitous; they are an accepted (and often taken for granted) part of everyday life, thanks to the blending of Mexican and American cuisines and cultures throughout the state. Fancy a bacon, egg and cheese on your way to work? Chances are there’s a taco truck on your commute, and in many cases the local coffee shop either makes their own or brings some in every morning to sell to tired, hungry Austinites.
Texans are so obsessed with the seemingly simple breakfast dish that much literature has been published on the topic. The New York Times tackled the subject back in 2010, and Austinite Hilah Johnson published an entire book on the subject the same year (the second edition came out in 2013). This past year, two Austin-based taco bloggers put their knowledge into a book as well, called Austin Breakfast Tacos, where they gathered recipes and stories from notable chefs and food industry types from across the city. Excerpts from Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece’s treatise were subsequently featured in Texas Monthly’s oral history of the breakfast taco.
Ask ten Londoners what a traditional English breakfast should include and they’ll give you ten different answers.
“I swear by blood pudding.”
“No way! I only eat white pudding. I don’t want blood in the morning.”
“As long as you fry the bread, puddings don’t even matter!”
“Fry the bread? Just buy a toaster already!”
The squabbling could go on forever – though it’s in a British accent, so who’s complaining? Most can agree that a traditional English breakfast includes fried eggs, bread – either toasted or fried, sautéed mushrooms, fried tomatoes, sausage of some kind, bacon, and Heinz beans. And yes, it must be Heinz, the same company we all know in the States for its ketchup. Even restaurants will boast Heinz brand beans on their menus. Sometimes black or white pudding is included (black is fat, oatmeal, and blood in a sausage casing, while white is everything but the blood).
There is little glamour in porridge. It may be historically significant, nutritious, and cost efficient, but it isn’t an inherently trendy food. This is no surprise really, considering the fact that it is difficult to make a bowl of lumpy, beige, amorphous goo look appealing to the uninitiated eater. Most people see porridge as an emergency food – something to cook when there’s nothing left in the pantry besides a few odd scoopfuls of wheat and a bit of salt. So it might seem funny that porridge is rising in the culinary ranks.
There is nothing new about porridge. Humans have been turning various cereals into porridge for nearly 6,000 years, well before society decided that grains needed to be hulled, ground, leavened, risen, baked, and sliced in order to be palatable. Cooking whole grains in liquid requires only minimal effort and results in a greater total yield than milling and processing grain into flour and bread. Grain could be harvested, dried, and stored to provide food year-round, and more valuable foods such as fruits, nuts, and spices could be added when available to create infinite variations on the base dish.
The rising popularity of bread – a more expensive, labor-intensive, and delicious grain-based dish – spelled disaster for porridge’s place in food culture. Where bread has seen countless waves of innovation, such as slicing and electric toasting, porridge has mostly been frozen in time, its recipes unchanged for thousands of years. Now, however, new generations of chefs seem to be taking those age-old recipes and revitalizing them with modern techniques and elements.
Every Sunday morning growing up was marked by the same sight: my father hovering over a griddle making pancakes, my sister requesting that he put strawberries in the batter, me reminding him to make mine without the berries, and my brother standing in front of the fridge drinking milk straight from the gallon. We all live in different states now, but our first question when we all come back home is if Dad will make pancakes in the morning.
Away from my family, I’m more likely to be sitting at a table with friends on a Sunday while a waitress takes our order. Being on my own in the city has opened my eyes to new kinds of breakfast treats aside from my Dad’s tried-and-true pancakes. My new breakfast delight? Eggs Benedict.