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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

Everything Tastes Better with Illicit Tabasco Sauce

Jan.02.17

Everything Tastes Better with Illicit Tabasco Sauce

by Adam Nace

Scrambled Eggs in Havana

In the course of our pre-departure due diligence, we noted that there was a market across the street from our apartment in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood. Further research revealed that this was one of the better markets in the city and that the various offerings would be diverse, fresh, and plentiful.

I was the earliest to rise on our first morning. Motivated and determined, I marched out the door and climbed the stairs to the market. It was 9 a.m. and things were in full swing. Hawkers barked from all directions in clipped, musical Spanish that both beckoned and intimidated. The smell of fresh produce and cigar smoke hung heavy in the bustling space. I did one full loop of the interior of the market to get the lay of the land and a second loop to plan my attack.

I steeled myself for my third trip through the gauntlet when I saw a man exit an adjacent garage carrying a pallet of eggs. With huevos now in play, the morning’s menu shifted from fruit salad to veggie scramble.

The egg vendor was busy with other customers as I approached, so I set myself to the task of selecting 18 of his finest from the many scattered cartons. When it came time to pay for “dieciocho huevos,” I confidently thrust a 20 CUC note in his direction. My currency was roundly refused. Later, I learned that most local markets only accept Cuban pesos (CUP) instead of the tourist currency, the convertible peso (CUC). In that moment, I was stuck.

The egg man immediately moved on to the next customer. I turned to flee from my embarrassment and felt a tap on my shoulder. A youngish looking fellow led me to the side of the counter and extracted a wad of cash from his pocket. He gestured at the 20 CUC note still in my hand and began to peel bills from his bundle. As he counted off the last note, we made the exchange. Not about to leave me hanging, my new friend summoned the vendor back from the fray and helped me settle my bill of 20 CUP (about 80 cents).

Muchas gracias,” I shouted after the samaritan as he set back to whatever business had brought him to the market. Breakfast was back on! Reinvigorated and armed with a pocket full of cash, I moved among the merchants and investigated their produce. I loaded up on bell peppers, garlic, and tiny onions. I also bought sliced pineapple and green-skinned oranges.

Back at the apartment, I found some cooking oil and fired up the gas burner. I whipped six eggs into a froth and poured them over a bed of lightly sautéed veggies. A few minutes later, I divvied up the scramble and fruits between three plates and served breakfast al fresco on the patio. The bottle of Tabasco that had eluded so many TSA agents was the final ingredient.

We Get the Politicians and the Bland Cups of Coffee We Deserve

Jan.24.17

We Get the Politicians and the Bland Cups of Coffee We Deserve

by Chris Newens

Coffee in Bahrain

As the Airbus A320 banks for its final descent, and the shimmering blue heat of the Persian Gulf fades into Bahrain’s desert-yellow suburbs, I cannot suppress a familiar tingle of excitement at flying into a world so different from my own, even if it is just for a transfer.

On the ground, there is the early morning’s vast warmth, so different from the low skies of the British winter I have just left, the indecipherable calligraphy of adverts and airport signs, the businessmen in their neatly pressed dishdashas. I make my way through the airport building, indulging in glimpses of the wild blueness of the sky and the unknown city beyond, until I arrive in a departures hall, itself filled with clean desert light.

There, the bubble bursts; I have seen a Costa Coffee—the most British of firms and a personal bête noire.

Founded in 1971 as a London-based wholesale coffee bean supplier, Costa has grown to become the second largest coffeehouse chain in the world. It boasts over 3,000 stores across 31 countries. All this, despite offering what I can only describe as a quite staggeringly mediocre experience.

It’s not that Costa is bad—just inoffensive to the point of offensiveness. While Starbucks markets a brightly cartoonish, distinctly American style, and Caffè Nero (one of Costa’s main British competitors) riffs off an Italian aesthetic, Costa offers little more than a sub-Ikea, maroon-colored, flat-pack blandness.

This is not to say that the business is a void of design, however; quite the opposite. From the saucers, which hold their cups “quirkily” off-centre, to the mass-produced faux-letter-press signs, its product and interior have been meticulously constructed to ride on the distant coat-tails of contemporary style, never more than acceptable but acceptable nevertheless to hipsters and grannies and everyone in between. And it works.

This, I suppose, is my main issue with Costa Coffee: what it says about us. One of the main precepts of capitalism ought to be that it ends up giving the people what they want; thus, the success of Costa, like Britain voting for Brexit or the victory of Donald Trump, is another chalk toward my diminished faith in humanity. For it suggests that what we want (in our coffeehouses, at least) is something that we don’t see, a service that blends into any background, one that requires the least amount of engagement possible, in which we need do nothing but stay safe in our own thoughts.

At the same time, the coffee itself is not terrible, and as Costa seems the only place I can buy caffeine in this staging post between long-haul flights, I figure I’ll leave my boycotting for a later date. I order a steaming half pint of Americano, and am soon enjoying its hot, dark bitterness, while I stare out at the Gulf Air jets as they ascend into the wild blue sky. Reliably, Costa fades into the hubbub, allowing me to enjoy Bahrain once again.

A Czechoslovakian Restaurant in Northern California Circa 1960

Jan.23.17

A Czechoslovakian Restaurant in Northern California Circa 1960

by Alexa van Sickle

Schnitzel in Marin County

Recently, I got to experience a long-held dream, if only for a couple of weeks: living in the woods with only a diabetic cat for company.

I had jumped at the chance to cat-sit for friends who live in a cabin in Inverness, CA, a town of around 1,000 on the southwestern shore of Tomales Bay, on a jagged peninsula north of San Francisco. The cabin, set high up on a ridge overlooking miles of forest, comes as part of the job when you work as an ecologist studying the local owl population. Yes, cat-sitting (and owl-observing) is nice work if you can get it.

On my first full day, after a night struggling with jet lag and the feline alarm clock, the sun was already high in the sky when I coasted the car down the hill in search of coffee and perhaps some kind of wholesome muffin.

It may be rural, but this corner of Northern California is far from undiscovered. People come to hike along dramatic beachside cliffs and spend many happy hours at Hog Island Oyster Company. (There is also an excessively-Instagrammed shipwreck that an amateur photographer accidentally set ablaze last year, apparently after trying to create a dramatic backdrop using sparks from steel wool.) But despite the robust visitor numbers, West Marin still has an appealing idyll. Inverness has only a couple of small clusters of businesses along the bayshore, all looking on-message for Marin County: clapboard storefronts, dusty general stores, and ocean-themed inns.

So I did a double take when I saw Vladimir’s: a cartoonish, colorful, squat building, flanked by an old-fashioned coat of arms fitting for a Medieval Inn at a theme park, plus several sets of old-school skis propped underneath for reasons, at that point, unclear.

Vladimir’s turned out to be a Czech restaurant, specializing in Moravian cabbage rolls, garlic rabbit, paprikash… and Wienerschnitzel. As a quasi-Austrian (and a quasi-Wiener no less) I couldn’t pass that up, so I thought, screw the muffin and coffee. My first breakfast in Inverness was a Schnitzel, with potato salad, red cabbage… and yes, a stein of Pilsner. (In my defense, it was well past noon.)

To shamefully paraphrase someone I have no business paraphrasing, one could say that all good Schnitzels are alike, but bad Schnitzels are bad in their own way. Maybe the cut of the veal is not tender enough, or it’s too thick, or undercooked, or the breadcrumb coating is too soggy, or the crumbs are too sparse. This one was not the best I ever had, but it still scored respectably on all those fronts.

It was only afterwards I learned that the local wisdom is that you go to Vladimir’s for the history, not the food. The story is that founder Vladimir Nevl skied over the border from Czechoslovakia into Germany when he was 18 to escape the Communist government. He ended up in Australia for a while, before landing in California, and opened the restaurant in 1960.

Nevl died in 2008, and now his daughter runs it. They’re proud to say the décor has not changed since it was opened. And that’s really the best way to describe the place: a Czechoslovakian restaurant in Northern California, circa 1960. Dim lighting, bucket-sized beer steins behind the bar, chandeliers, trophies, pencil sketches of Czechoslovakian towns, and every inch of the wall covered in old photographs of horses and other hobbies of Nevl’s—who apparently liked to wear full equestrian gear in the restaurant.

The dark interior certainly has a rumpled charm, bordering on the dusty. Maybe Vladimir’s isn’t about the food. But I still wouldn’t say no to Schnitzel for breakfast.

Photo by Martin Hapl.

A Cocoa Puff Latte and a Box of Diabetes, Please

Jan.20.17

A Cocoa Puff Latte and a Box of Diabetes, Please

by Candy Moo

Coffee and Donuts in Miami

Not that long ago, rows upon rows of abandoned warehouses made up Miami’s Wynwood Arts District. Now it’s a haven of street art, galleries, and bars, and the area has become what most of Miami is not: walkable.

Tucked in the backstreets away from the foot traffic of 2nd Avenue is The Salty Donut, a coffee and donut shop peddling flavors like Nutella, Maple Bacon, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch—endless options of oversized doughy goodness.

I dragged my mother along for her first Wynwood experience. I wanted a Cocoa Puff latte and box of donuts for my family. As I tasted the soggy, chocolatey puffs in the latte, I thought of summer camp and PBS reruns of Arthur. My mom’s first bite into a Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cannoli neutralized her accusing glare in my direction. She’s not usually one for sweets or alcohol, but the whiskey caramel and RumChata white chocolate erased all protest.

As it turns out, we had chosen a special day to visit the Salty Donut: they were unveiling a highly coveted new product. The newest donut on the menu was an even bigger hit of nostalgia: a Knaus Berry Farm cinnamon roll wrapped carefully in the arms of a brioche donut, topped with caramelized pecans. Deep down south in Homestead, FL, Knaus Berry Farm is a well-known strawberry farm where families can pick their own produce. Together with fresh strawberry smoothies, their cinnamon buns are a staple for any South Florida native.

Biting into my Knaus Berry Farm Sticky Bun Donut, I recalled a time when the sun was high overhead as I ran, clad in overalls, through the strawberry rows. With this donut and another sip of my sugar cereal-latte, I was in memory lane heaven.

Sitting at the communal table, I glanced at the never-ending line filing out the door. There were people clad in army uniforms, women clutching papers and chatting on their cellphones, and others holding expensive cameras with long lenses and eager expressions, everyone yearning for a mid-day sweet treat.

The Only Thing Better Than a Tamale is a Tamale Sandwich

Jan.19.17

The Only Thing Better Than a Tamale is a Tamale Sandwich

by Susan Shain

Tamales in Oaxaca City

Every morning, her smooth face, her fresh white apron, and her metal cart stand vigilant in the Zócalo, the central square. Her name is Rosario, and for the past eight years, she’s dutifully guarded this post from 6:30-10:30 a.m., seven days a week.

Unlike other vendors, she doesn’t need to hawk her services; for her, patrons jostle, anxiously awaiting their breakfast of tamales. I am one of them.

These heavenly wedges consist of masa (corn dough) and lard, plus meat (in this case, chicken) and sauce (in this case, delicious), wrapped and steamed in either a corn husk or a banana leaf. Or they’re placed snugly inside a bolillo (bread roll) to create a torta de tamal, a simple but filling carb-on-carb delight.

Rosario offers three sauces: mole—decadent, with more than a dozen spices and chilis; salsa verde—spicy and tomatillo-based; or rajas—made with strips of roasted poblano peppers. I choose the mole because I always choose the mole. Oaxaca is famous for no less than seven varieties of mole. Rosario usually uses coloradito or rojo. The sauce is reddish-brown and rich, with hints of chocolate and cinnamon.

Protesters, another of Oaxaca’s specialties, march behind us. Shoe shiners loudly settle their stools. Wheels rattle, birds sing, but none of it distracts me or my fellow tamale pilgrims from our goal.

Rosario grabs a bolillo and scoops out the innards, making room for what really matters: one of the more than 150 tamales she labored over for hours yesterday afternoon. Then she reaches into the cart. As she puts together my order, deftly removing the leaf before depositing the tamale into the roll, she is unwrapping the best kind of gift—the kind you can eat. Steam pours off the mélange of corn and chicken and bread and sauce, floating away into the cool highland air.

Hurry up, I tell myself as I shuffle my coins, trying to determine which combination will get me the torta de tamal the fastest. But Rosario doesn’t even notice the delay. She’s already taking the next eager customer’s order. Finally, I find the right coins: the equivalent of 60 cents.

At Standing Rock, A Small Reprieve From the Guacapocalypse

Jan.16.17

At Standing Rock, A Small Reprieve From the Guacapocalypse

by Rebecca High

Avocado Toast in North Dakota

California worships the avocado. It might be the perfect fruit: hearty and delicious, sweet and savory, firm and soft, always in season.

But the catch is that in California, one pound of avocados needs around 80 gallons of water to grow, and California’s drought has turned the fruit goopy brown or bitterly hard. “Guacapocalypse,” as people call it, is naturally distressing for Californians. Some shops and cafés have pledged not to serve avocado—and the ever-popular brunch staple, avocado toast—until the water shortage ends. The greater implications of the drought, of course, are far more alarming.

I joined several hundred self-described Water Protectors at Standing Rock, North Dakota. We were protesting against an oil pipeline being constructed under a river, potentially polluting the area’s drinking water. I met Katie and Genie, grandmothers from California who told stories of their days in Greenpeace 40 years ago. We shared an interest in garden produce and in protecting clean water sources.

After sunrise on my last chilly morning at Standing Rock, I stopped by Katie and Genie’s camp to say goodbye. Katie pushed a hot Mason jar full of tea into my hands as Genie looked at me conspiratorially over tinted glasses. “Let’s make avocado toast!” She pulled two avocados seemingly out of nowhere and winked. I marveled as she sliced the avocados, then deftly pulled small slices of wheat bread out of a bag and placed them in a pan on low heat. These women spent days freezing in North Dakota fields, and preserved these perfect avocados to share with me.

When the bread started smoking, Genie scooped avocado generously over it, spritzed it with vinegar, and handed me the first piece. I was hungry from days of protein bars. The bread was hot and crisped around the edges. The avocado was somehow perfectly ripe and sweet, even though Genie told me she bought it a week earlier at a market in Santa Cruz. The vinegar was piquant on my lips. It was the most simple, yet most satisfying avocado toast I’d ever had, and I thanked them for their gift.

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