Breakfast has become a battlefield. Motherhood is wonderful. Breakfast is not. I tried my best. I really did. Previous columns are testimony to that. Bottereiers, the way my mom made them. Jacques Erasmus’s oats for a little prince. Puffy cheese toasties. Thai-style crispy eggs. April Bloomfield’s baked eggs with anchovy and rosemary.
These are all wonderful ways to start your day. But at 6:30 am during the mad rush not to be the last family at the school gate, I confess to taking the path of least resistance. I just don’t have the strength for a sleepy nine-year-old who does not want to eat a heavy breakfast. So we go the conflict-free breakfast-in-a-box route. ProNutro. Weet-Bix or Seb’s very best puffed rice cereal, and save the inevitable arguments for the berry smoothie that Jacques insists he drinks in the morning.
But come weekend, we are all about The Brunch. Because, secretly, I agree with Seb. No one wants a heavy breakfast at 6:30 am. Much better to dine at 11, that time of the morning when a chilled glass of wooded Chardonnay perfectly complements creamy eggs, or a slightly sweet Cap Classique cuts through the fat of a bacon butty drenched with HP sauce.
I’m also a sucker for a full-on English breakfast, a reminder of all those cold UK mornings spent at brightly lit greasy spoons in my late 20s after late nights out and very early mornings looking for treasures at antiques markets. When my metabolism took piles of buttered toast, fried eggs, sausage, bacon and baked beans in its stride. Except I never really loved the baked beans. In fact, of all the things I have ever craved, and there have been many, baked beans have never featured. Never, that is, until my friend Dhiveja brought some to a braai, and I became instantly hooked on their comforting slightly sweet and salty spiciness.
I could wake up early for this. I begged her for the recipe. “It’s only canned baked beans,” she whispered, “I just added some things.” Ah, Dhiveja. The woman who opens my culinary mind in fabulous ways. A few years ago during a political march to parliament, we shared life stories, hers as an Indian South African growing up in Durban and mine as a white South African growing up in the suburbs of Cape Town. And once we’d exhausted politics and heartache, we spoke of food. “Let’s get a gatsby,” Dhiveja suggested as the protest snaked up Buitenkant Street. I, somewhat embarrassedly, confessed to never having eaten one.
We turned left and my new friend introduced me to the unpretentious gloriousness that is The Gatsby. Sitting in the sun, with sticky hands and sauce dripping down our chins, we ate food that healed our hearts – a half-metre-long Portuguese roll, cut lengthways and stuffed with hot chips, masala steak, polony, atchar, cheese and chilli sauce. So when Dhiveja shares her favourite food I know to pay careful attention. Because her food always manages to fill pockets of emptiness. Her baked beans have made their way onto my brunch menu, and served with a fried egg and crispy bacon, they’re close to perfection.
I don’t know about an early breakfast being the most important meal of the day, but brunch done right, especially the mid-morning kind that lasts well into the afternoon and sometimes includes waffles and pancakes and berries and bacon and maple syrup, is definitely my favourite. Perhaps it’s because breakfast ingredients can only fully be appreciated when you are not sleep deprived and in a hurry. Breakfast deserves undivided attention, which is why brunch was invented.