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May 16, 2006

The Big Breakfast

Filed under: Breakfast,Dieting,Japanese Food,Mr. Henry — Mr. Henry @ 9:54 am

Furlagirl writes:
Mr (ha!) Henry, does not, though, quite address my question. His advice, if one wishes to maintain a svelte figure, is to make breakfast the largest meal of the day, but the breakfasts he outlines don’t seem that big to me, not compared with his lunches.

Eating a big breakfast is an ideal, a goal, a mental construct, a “road map” to a better tomorrow. As an evidentiary matter, the size of Mr. Henry’s breakfast does not necessarily conform to his published proscriptions and, consequently, is rarely his largest meal of the day. That is, like the mother crab telling her baby, “Don’t walk sideways, dear!” Mr. Henry does not always follow his own advice. Limiting dinnertime drinking to two glasses of wine, for example, is another noble ideal not always achieved. But without ideals, even failed ones, who are we?

Through this confession has he disappointed his devoted readers? Do they feel their trust misplaced, their loyalties betrayed?

Furlagirl quickly picked up on this contradiction, almost as though she were an investigative reporter who specializes in Middle Eastern and other insurmountable problems. Breakfast issues are not nearly as ticklish as those of the Arab-Israeli conflict, thankfully, yet they vex us nonetheless.

A “big” breakfast, therefore, can justly be described as “big” if it exceeds the breakfast an early-morning Henry might eat if left to his raw, unreflective self. First thing in the morning cooking in any normative sense is not an option, nor are surgical activities such as chopping, slicing, or shaving. The notion of cooking Blackstone Eggs, as delicious as Joan makes them sound, is quite unthinkable in the morning. Even breaking an egg with aplomb, much less poaching one, is beyond Mr. Henry’s capabilities.

Upon rising he stumbles into the kitchen and, following a well-rehearsed rote sequence, places the kettle on the fire, walks downstairs to retrieve the N.Y. Times, and sits in his favorite chair. At this moment Mr. Henry considers himself to have achieved a moral victory merely by maintaining his body in a sitting position. When the kettle begins to whistle, he rouses his leaden frame and proceeds to perform the one essential morning task: he makes the coffee.

A Mr. Henry dictum: Dinner is the vehicle for wine, breakfast the vehicle for coffee.

Coffee is not easy to prepare. Do not leave the preparation of coffee to minors, tea drinkers, aged relatives, or health nuts.

Coffee is among the world’s most potent aromatics. In the 13th century when the Arabs of south Arabia first introduced it to the Muslim world’s holy cities, coffee was declared to be an intoxicant and men were hanged for imbibing it. Its salutary effects on mood, however, make it a holy substance in Mr. Henry’s cupboard, the frankincense of his life. Without it, he descends immediately into despair – one of the seven deadlies – and gets a wicked headache, to boot. Once when he forswore the black potion for five days straight, a misguided attempt to boost fertility [don’t ask], his staff rose up and threatened to resign en masse unless he took a cup immediately. Acceding to the strikers’ demand was an enormous personal relief.

Although breakfast may not be the day’s largest meal, it remains a very important moment, the chance either to begin the day profitably or begin it insalubriously. Its importance, therefore, may loom larger than its physical scale.

We are each creatures of routine, and no routines are as invariable as morning ones. Mr. Henry begins his day slowly and rises to a crescendo sometime in the late evening. He once broke up with a perfectly nice woman after the first overnight date because she was so peppy and cheerful in the morning. Although he feels pangs of guilt about it and wishes her nothing but happiness, in the end he knows it was all for the best.

Since Mr. Henry’s confessional impulses seem to have taken hold, he should by rights declare that lately he has been breakfasting on the little Henry’s leftover birthday cake, a soggy-bottomed Chilean dulce de leche affair covered in whipped cream (lovingly crafted by Tia Mirta), an altogether inspired accompaniment to a thick cup of Sumatra.

Another Mr. Henry Dictum: True Latin countries are defined by a fondness for desserts with soggy bottoms, the zuppa inglese being a prime example.

France only pretends to be Latin so they can steal Italian style and Spanish wit. In truth the French are Romanized Germanic tribes, which explains why their trains run on time. But is there a people who know better how to live? Is it any wonder that so few French emigrated to the New World?


  1. Mr. Henry! #1: Remember Quebec! It’s full of French immigrants. #2: Italians can do crunchy desserts! OK, sometimes they’re too crunchy, like poke-your-eye-out or knock-your-head-off crunchy, like awful almond cookies or other biscotti (biscotto is any cookie)…. but sometimes they’re good. You should try the chocolate salami. I don’t think any non-Italians know about this. Bittersweet chocolate, butter, sugar, nuts, all rolled up and refrigerated till somewhat crunchy/granulated.

    Comment by An italian person — May 17, 2006 @ 7:39 am

  2. Continuing on the same tack, as if I were Seymour Hersh in the NY Times, and you were, say, Donald Rumsfeld, so if it wasn’t by eating a big breakfast, how exactly did you lose that 30 lbs? (Or did he?)

    Comment by furlagirl — May 19, 2006 @ 12:46 am

  3. I think there should be a semi-colon after Rumsfeld.

    Comment by furlagirl — May 19, 2006 @ 1:36 am

  4. Knowing that Mr. Henry eats leftover truffle for breakfast makes me feel a lot better about having pie for breakfast, whenever we have any in the house. Cheesecake is good, too, but pie is my favorite.

    Most days breakfast: some of last night’s dinner leftovers, or a bowl of oatmeal. Unless I baked something recently, in which case I’ll eat whatever that is. Periodically the children cajole me into making pancakes and bacon, and when I emerge from the cosmic time-sink that pancake making always generates, I do enjoy them tremendously.

    I think most of us can visualize the ideal breakfast… but very few have the motivation to actually assemble it on a regular basis.

    Comment by Joan — May 19, 2006 @ 1:42 am

  5. An Italian person should reconsider his generalization, when it comes to desserts. Coming from Eastern Europe (Romania) the crunchy chocolate salami he mentioned was part of my childhood delights. Let’s not limit the culinary world to Western Europe!!

    Comment by Non Italian chocolate salami — May 20, 2006 @ 7:57 pm

  6. mr non-italian chocolate salami! I am impressed! so Eastern Europeans eat this too? We come from North East Italy (Veneto region, formerly the “Austrian Hungarian Empire”) so who knows if that recipe emigrated South West or the other way around. Interesting!

    Comment by An italian person — May 21, 2006 @ 10:00 pm

  7. I start my weekday breakfast with a cup of pineapple jiuce, a banana, a half-dozen frozen strawberries, and a scoop of vanilla protein powder in the blender. I drink it straight from the blender. Then I walk to my office carrying a mug of dry granola which I begin eating as I leave, pouring it from the mug into my mouth. Arriving at the office minutes later, I make a large pot of very strong coffee; approx one scoop coffee for each cup; oil is apparent on the top and few others can drink it. I finish my granola in an erratic or leisurely fashion, and drink coffee all morning. I have to say: it works for me. And, just think how how many glasses, bowls and spoons I have saved!

    It occurs to me that many here will find this horrible, or funny, or both. I offer it up as a form of entertainment, or posssibly as an example of what not to do for breakfast.

    Comment by Ryno — May 23, 2006 @ 5:45 pm

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