Breakfast in Bed

Fast Breaks Slow

By Gretchen Giles

WHEN JESSE ZIFF COOL was a little girl, she was terribly afflicted with recurring tonsillitis that confined her to bed. Her mother plumped up and cooled the pillows, and then brought her breakfast to eat–crumbs and all–amid the sheets. The burning in her throat was soothed, her fever lessened; the experience itself was somehow healing.

Breakfast in bed has long been seen as the province solely of the ill and of mothers on that one day in May reserved each year in their honor. Otherwise, lovers seem to get the most treats, just as lovers should. But wouldn’t the whole world be a better place if everyone occasionally had the chance to simply lie in a languor over good tea or coffee, homebaked rolls, and perhaps just a second helping of fruit butter?

The answer is an emphatic yes.

And so Cool (her real name and aptly given) reminds us all that breakfast actually is the most important meal of the day, even if eaten at 10 p.m. Cool’s childhood memory of sweet affection and attention, mixed with the luxury of being in the most comfortable place possible, brings forth the natural issue: a new cookbook.

In writing Breakfast in Bed: 90 Recipes for Creative Indulgences (HarperCollins; $19.95), this Menlo Park-based chef and owner of the Flea St. Cafe embraces a gestalt of nurturing–be it one’s offspring, lover, parents, friends, or oneself. Cool is not exhorting us to rise with the cock’s crow to begin laboring over a hot stove. Rather, these recipes–all of which have “do ahead” reminders and which are often timed to take less than 35 minutes–range from the simplest making of oatmeal, soft mashed eggs, or the clever morphing of last night’s dinner into this morning’s meal, to more elaborate fare suitable for guests . . . in bed.

What is appealing about this book, other than the entire notion that supports it, is that Cool, 48, still dyes magenta streaks into her hair, keeps chickens in the backyard of her Silicon Valley home, and traveled out west in the ’70s in an old VW van, waiting tables by day while her son went to elementary school.

She is no lofty foodie making annual pilgrimages to Italy simply for the tomatoes.

The messy glee that infuses her recipes is one that is familiar to even the most harried cook. Stressing that the manner in which a morning meal is offered is nearly as important as the nourishment inherent, Cool makes such easy suggestions as slicing ripe fruit onto a pretty plate and garnishing with a handful of nasturtium petals from the window box, or wrapping melon in prosciutto, upending it in a glass, and pouring in a little champagne. All, she suggests, is not eggs Benedict, bud roses, and linen napkins.

Strict about eating those foods grown in-area, in-season, Breakfast in Bed begins with recipes for fruit butters, which Cool admits are “embarrassingly easy to make.” It ends with menu suggestions for feeding a new lover, a sick child, hungry campers at the beach, or a group of overnighting teenagers. We offer below two of Cool’s suggestions for celebrating life–supine.

Apple or Pear Butter

2 lbs. cooking apples or pears, peeled and cored
lemon zest
1 cinnamon stick
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
apple juice

In a heavy saucepan, combine the fruit, lemon, cinnamon, sugar, and cloves. Add enough juice to cover. Simmer, uncovered, until fruit is soft, about 15-30 minutes. Strain off excess juice and remove cinnamon. Mash or process, cover and store. Keeps for a week. Excellent on biscuits and toast.

Torta Murcia
This is one of those breakfast-for-dinner suggestions culled from Cool’s travels in Spain.

2 tblsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 sweet red pepper, chopped
6 oz. chicken breast meat, in bite-sized pieces
8 oz. spicy pork sausage, in bite-sized pieces
1-2 tblsp. fresh chopped rosemary
pinch of saffron
2 tblsp. dry red wine, chicken stock, or water
10 large eggs
1 1/2 c. cooked rice
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/2 c. finely chopped basil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using an oven-proof pan, add the oil and sauté the onion, pepper, chicken, and sausage until the vegetables are soft and the meat is completely cooked. Stir in the rosemary, saffron, and wine and sauté for two minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, rice, salt, pepper, and basil.

Turn up the heat under the skillet. When it is just smoking, pour in the egg mixture. Remove from heat, turning to evenly disperse the eggs. Put the pan into the oven and bake for about 45 minutes, until the torta is set in the middle. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Invert the torta over a large plate and serve.

From the Oct. 16-22, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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