Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Breakfast, Slowly

One of the most wonderful things about not having to leave the house at a particularly early hour is eating breakfast at one's own pace. My preferred morning goes something like this. First, I help get the Wife out the door, putting together a reused deli container full of last night's leftovers, or a sandwich when I've got a loaf of gluten-free bread in the fridge. Once she's gone, I put on a pot of tea. Sometimes, it is Earl Grey, which I take very bitter (brewed 5-8 minutes, not the 3-5 usually suggested for black tea), with lots of milk and sugar. However, I've been seriously lactose intolerant lately, and no nondairy milk really works in Earl Grey, as far as I'm concerned. My black tea of choice at the moment is a bastardized masala chai. Masala chai is what the beverage called a "chai tea latte" in American English started out as. Chai means tea in Hindi, Urdu, and other South Asian languages (making "chai tea" redundant). (Chai also means tea in Chinese; the Arabic word, شائ shay, is related linguistically.) The masala part means spice mixture (the most commonly known to Americans is garam masala; my favorite is chaat masala). So masala chai is spiced tea, and can be served with or without milk. I make a very simple and not terribly authentic version out of black tea, cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger, whole if I've got them, ground if I don't. It tastes good with almond milk, which is my nondairy of choice, or with cow's milk if you like.

This morning, however, it was a green tea day. Specifically sencha (a long-leaf Japanese green tea) and hibiscus. You've probably had hibiscus, though you don't know it. If you've ever had an herbal tea that turned really, really red, that was hibiscus at work, my friend. Mexicans make a cold drink from it called jamaica, pronounced ha-ma-i-ka, because it arrived in Mexico from Jamaica. In Egypt, a similar drink called karkaday (كركادي, I think; it's colloquial, so not in my MSA [Modern Standard Arabic] dictionaries) is used to celebrate weddings, and is served both hot and cold. Although I like it cold, I prefer my hibiscus infusions hot, and cut with another tea; it is strong, strong stuff. I had it this morning for one pressing reason: I'm coming down with a cold. Tea with milk, even nondairy milk, feels too thick for a throat with postnasal drip. Hibiscus tea is rich in vitamin C, can stand up to enough honey to make it soothing to the throat, and just makes you feel better, ya know?

Hibiscus and Sencha with Honey. It poses with the laptop nicely. Now I just have to not spill it...

After I make my tea, I sit around, check my email, read my blogs, check my Livejournal friends' page, and watch a news cycle on New York 1. New York 1, if you are unfortunate enough not to live in the five boroughs, is a 24 hour local news station, with a liberal bias, a quick news cycle, and smart anchors and reporters. Also, they occasionally read you the newspaper. And they have a section called "The World Beyond New York," which I think puts the rest of the world in its place, bitches. Around 10:30, I start getting hungry.

Some mornings, it's a cornflakes moment. Cornflakes are amazing. At a moment of particular emotional stress, a bowl of cornflakes with almond milk has made me burst into tears. But sometimes it's a leftovers morning--I want something hot, spicy, and cold-from-the-fridge-with-a-spoon. Sometimes I have gluten bagels (with garlic and salt and poppy seeds and everything else in the universe) in the freezer, and I have one with scallion cream cheese.

This morning was a polenta morning. Hot cereals have never been my thing. I was never an oatmeal fan. Bob's Red Mill gluten-free hot cereal is OK. But polenta is amazing, any time of day but, surprisingly, for breakfast especially. Polenta is Italian grits, if you don't know, cornmeal porridge. You've probably seen it in little squares, after it has been left to set up; I like it better immediately after cooking, when it is still a soft, smooth texture. Polenta takes about 45 minutes to an hour to cook the regular way. However, I've been lucky enough to find a brand of quick-cooking polenta that is really good, which means I can make it for breakfast. It is rich in a way oatmeal could never be, and carries other flavors remarkably well.

Below is my breakfast polenta recipe. It goes well with masala chai or, really, anything. I use De La Estancia polenta from Argentina, but any quick-cooking/instant polenta would do. Probably instant grits would be OK, too.

Breakfast Polenta

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk (I use almond milk; you could use soy, cow, or any nut milk, or a mix)
polenta, as dictated by the directions on your package (1/3 cup of De La Estancia)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
2 tsp sugar
maple sugar to taste

Bring water and milk to a boil in small pan. Just before boiling, add cinnamon, cardamom, and sugar. Add polenta in a small stream, whisking constantly. Cook until it becomes thick and the bubbles splatter slightly. Serve immediately, with maple syrup on top.

*Want to serve conventional polenta without standing over the stove for freakin' ever? Make polenta in a slow cooker. 3 cups water to 1 cup regular stone-ground cornmeal, and a pinch of salt. Cooks for 3-4 hours on high, and could probably go overnight on low. Breakfast polenta would make a great dish for a holiday morning, or a brunch.

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