Saturday, July 21, 2007

Breakfast Leanings of the Stubborn Mind

I've had this penchant for breakfast sandwiches for years. It's not just the sandwich that attracts me, but the act of creation, the layers, the nuances, something more than the sum of its parts.

My interest in the subject began almost subconsciously during high school where i often frequented greasy spoon diners on late morning recovery projects. In a state of grace that comes only from a long night of drinks, philosophy, mischief, and experimentation, the transformation of the breakfast special into an Italian Panini certainly involved deep seated creative urges allowed to manifest and run free. These were experiments in minimalism, working with limited materials, the occasional (and preferred) side of tomatoes often tipping the balance on my bill.

As years flew by, and I moved into kitchens of my own, the breakfast sandwich has had some crowning and triumphant moments. The discovery and addition of the Avocado, for instance, has had drastic implications on the chemical and spectral makeup of my creations. Some years of vegetarian leanings behind me, I developed a healthy dependency on sizzling bacon as a central building block. Hailing from the dying days of the the sign of Taurus, I remain stubborn and committed to certain traditions and personal taste. A central one, critical to this train of thought, is my loyalty to scrambled eggs. As a child I vaguely recall the expectation of a sunnyside up breakfast, or cracking the top off a soft boiled wonder, but somewhere along the way my tastes narrowed and what emerged was a fierce commitment to the scramble. I have come so far as to abhor the sight of a runny yoke.

On reflection, one thing surprises me above all else. Growing up in a household with a firm belief in whole grains, leafy greens, and organics, white enriched sliced bread was a foreign and exotic treat. Over the years since I have come into the world having to provide for myself, I have, at times, tread down the paths of processed food, and much as morning fare with whole grain toast is a central part of many a missed sunrise, white toast, thick sliced, continues to hold a central place as a cornerstone of of a grand breakfast spread.

A great deal of planning and preparation can be put in or omitted in the crafting of a breakfast sandwich. All that is really required is a little creativity, a bottomless cup of coffee, and a little time free of any pressing appointments, engagements, or deadlines to cut the experience short.


La Gringa said...

Hi Chris,

Thanks for posting on my "Free range posts" article. I enjoyed your breakfast article (and read your whole blog while I was here).

I noticed that you didn't mention tortillas as a base for your breakfast sandwiches and was a little surprised about that.

Flour tortillas are a much sturdier container!

Well, thanks for visiting me!

Aaron Ortiz said...

Wow, Chris, you remind me of Douglas Adams' character Arthur Dent, and his delightful phase as the revered Sandwich Maker of Lamuella.

Here's an excerpt, shamelessly pirated from an online version of Adams' "Mostly Harmless":

"There is an art to the business of making sandwiches which it is given to few ever to find the time to explore in depth. It is a simple task, but the opportunities for satisfaction are many and profound: choosing the right bread for instance. The Sandwich Maker had spent many months in daily consultation and experiment with Grarp the baker and eventually they had between them created a loaf of exactly the consistency that was dense enough to slice thinly and neatly, while still being light, moist and having that fine nutty flavour which best enhanced the savour of roast Perfectly Normal Beast flesh.

There was also the geometry of the slice to be refined: the precise relationships between the width and height of the slice and also its thickness which would give the proper sense of bulk and weight to the finished sandwich: here again, lightness was a virtue, but so too were firmness, generosity and that promise of succulence and savour that is the hallmark of a truly intense sandwich experience.

The proper tools, of course, were crucial, and many were the days that the Sandwich Maker, when not engaged with the Baker at his oven, would spend with Strinder the Tool Maker, weighing and balancing knives, taking them to the forge and back again. Suppleness, strength, keenness of edge, length and balance were all enthusiastically debated, theories put forward, tested, refined, and many was the evening when the Sandwich Maker and the Tool Maker could be seen silhouetted against the light of the setting sun and the Tool Maker's forge making slow sweeping movements through the air trying one knife after another, comparing the weight of this one with the balance of another, the suppleness of a third and the handle binding of a fourth.

Three knives altogether were required. First there was the knife for the slicing of the bread: a firm, authoritative blade which imposed a clear and defining will on a loaf. Then there was the butter-spreading knife, which was a whippy little number but still with a firm backbone to it. Early versions had been a little too whippy, but now the combination of flexibility with a core of strength was exactly right to achieve the maximum smoothness and grace of spread.

The chief amongst the knives, of course, was the carving knife. This was the knife that would not merely impose its will on the medium through which it moved, as did the bread knife; it must work with it, be guided by the grain of the meat, to achieve slices of the most exquisite consistency and translucency, that would slide away in filmy folds from the main hunk of meat. The Sandwich Maker would then flip each sheet with a smooth flick of the wrist on to the beautifully proportioned lower bread slice, trim it with four deft strokes and then at last perform the magic that the children of the village so longed to gather round and watch with rapt attention and wonder. With just four more dexterous flips of the knife he would assemble the trimmings into a perfectly fitting jigsaw of pieces on top of the primary slice. For every sandwich the size and shape of the trimmings were different, but the Sandwich Maker would always effortlessly and without hesitation assemble them into a pattern which fitted perfectly. A second layer of meat and a second layer of trimmings, and the main act of creation would be accomplished.

The Sandwich Maker would pass what he had made to his assistant who would then add a few slices of newcumber and fladish and a touch of splagberry sauce, and then apply the topmost layer of bread and cut the sandwich with a fourth and altogether plainer knife. It was not that these were not also skilful operations, but they were lesser skills to be performed by a dedicated apprentice who would one day, when the Sandwich Maker finally laid down his tools, take over from him. It was an exalted position and that apprentice, Drimple, was the envy of his fellows. There were those in the village who were happy chopping wood, those who were content carrying water, but to be the Sandwich Maker was very heaven. "