Monday, December 26, 2005

Boxing Breakfast

Other cultures, I posit, do a better job with Christmas than we do. Perhaps this notion is based on a complete misapprehension about other cultures, and perhaps I just believe what I want to believe, but I have it stuck in my head that in some countries at least, Christmas is the beginning of the season of giving rather than its culmination. You start with Christmas, and twelve days later you have Epiphany, or Le Jour des Rois, which is meant to coincide roughly with the arrival of the wise men, twelve days after the birth of Christ, transportation being a much slower and less reliable thing in those days. These days, one supposes, there would be a live feed from the site within a couple of hours, and the foreign dignitaries would be on their private jets as soon as the security details had been worked out. (Mary had a book deal, yes lord. Mary had a book deal, yes my lord.)

Anyway, around these parts (I speak, you understand, of the WalMart-loving world in general, not of the anapestic household, where the hustle and bustle is largely centered around my many cookie sheets), there's a pretty big build-up to Christmas, but the build-up is all about procuring and decorating and not so much about giving, or, for that matter, about the idea that a child can save the whole world. (I was trying to avoid getting into a rant about that whole war-on-Christmas nonsense that I've heard so much about of late, but I may just give in and rant. You people [the war-on-Christmas faction, not, of course, my wonderful readers] are idiots. Has anyone actually ever gotten upset with you if you wished them "Merry Christmas"? I didn't think so. Yet you're getting upset with people because they wish you "Happy Holidays," and then you're calling it a war because someone is smiling at you and wishing you joy. It's supposed to be a season of peace, and you're seeing war where none exists because someone told you to be upset about it. It's enough to make the baby Jesus cry.) I am not a theist, but I still find the idea that Christmas is based on to be very powerful, and I still go to choir practice every Thursday night during the fall so that on Christmas Eve I can sit in the choir and sing (very well, I might add; I had an itty bitty solo this year, and I was great) and so that I can watch the candlelight passing from candle to candle and can enjoy the brief period of hope and joy when the whole congregation sings "Silent Night."

But even during the service, the minister notes in her homily that Christmas Eve is the holiest moment of the season, and that Christmas Day often doesn't live up to expectations and usually results in hurt feelings and family squabbles. There were no hurt feelings here, and no family squabbles, either, and everyone had a very merry Christmas, but it's still over very quickly after a long period of anticipation, so even in the anapestic household, Christmas late afternoon (we don't really get started until noon since that's when I fetch the girls from their mother's house) and evening were long periods of very low energy, interrupted by frantic bouts of napping.

I think the cure to the inevitable anticlimax of Christmas Day is to serve a terrific breakfast on December 26th, aka Boxing Day. If it's a day that you have off, as I did, then you'll be sleeping late. The kids always have the day off, and they're generally pretty exhausted by Christmas, so they sleep late, too. And if anyone's ravenous (highly unlikely after everything we ate the day before), there are stocking leftovers to tide one over. All of that means that I can stay in bed until 9:30 and still have plenty of time to put together breakfast at a leisurely pace.

And there's no need to go to any great effort here. You just want to have foods that everyone likes but might not always have time for, and you want to have one thing that's unusual but yummy. The breakfast I made was really quite simple. The girls are especially fond of small link sausages flavored with maple syrup, so I bought a package and fried them up.

They also love grits. A., especially, is known for eating vast quantities of grits. No grit, in fact, is safe around her. She is the bogeyman that the older ears of corn tell the baby corn about to get them to behave. You do not want to get between that girl and a bowl of grits. Because it was a special occasion, and because I was going to have something in the oven for a while and had plenty of time, I went with old fashioned grits.

Cheesy Grits

5 cups water
1 t. salt
1 cup grits
1/2 cup grated cheese
2 T. butter

In a large saucepan, bring the water and the salt to a full boil.

Stirring constantly, add the grits in a slow stream. Turn the heat to low and cover the pot. Stir every few minutes for about fifteen minutes, or until the grits are tender.

Stir in the grated cheese until it is entirely melted. Add the butter and stir until it is melted and incorporated. Season to taste. Serve pronto.

This recipe should serve six people. Or two normal people and my daughter A., the grits-consuming menace.

If you don't want to wait twenty minutes for your grits, you can use quick grits, and the result will be almost as good. Instant grits are the work of the devil and are to be avoided at all costs. Really, just don't go there. If you can't find old fashioned or quick grits, then get some cornmeal and make polenta instead.

I used some grated Gruyere because that's what I had around. My general preference is to use extra sharp cheddar, but the Gruyere was awfully good. If you are dealing with a more adventurous crowd than I was then by all means add a pureed clove of garlic and/or some Tabasco to your grits towards the end of the cooking time. Ground black pepper is also a good idea. You can also use (a lot) more cheese. Hell, you can replace half the water with beer and add bratwurst if you want. Just don't use instant grits, or I might have to chastise you severely. (You can't really use beer and bratwurst. Unless you're from Milwaukee, and they don't have grits in Milwaukee. You can add as much cheese as you want, though.)

"Season to taste" is meant to indicate that you're going to need more salt but that I don't want to tell you how much because a) you can decide that for yourself, and b) if you're not a frequent maker of grits, you'd be shocked by how much I had to use. If you use the garlic and/or the Tabasco and/or a sharper cheese, you might need less.

The girls would have been entirely happy with grits and sausage, but I felt the need to add something especially festive.

Monkey Bread

2 cups flour
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt (if you're using unsalted butter)
1/3 c. sugar
1 t. cinnamon
8 T. (1 stick) butter
3/4 c. milk (approximately)

Another 4 T. butter, melted
Another 1/3 c. sugar
Another 1/2 t. cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a bundt pan. Put the 4 T. of melted butter in one bowl. Combine the second one-third cup of sugar and the additional 1/2 t. of cinnamon in another bowl.

Put the flour, baking powder, salt (if you're using it), sugar and cinnamon in the bowl of your food processor. Pulse briefly. Cut the stick of butter into eight or so pieces, add to the bowl, and process until the butter is well coated with the flour and is the size of small peas. With the processor running, add the milk. When the dough balls up, turn off the processor, move the dough to your marble, and knead briefly, adding a bit more flour if necessary. Roll or pat the dough out to about an inch thick, and cut into about 24 pieces.

Roll each piece into a ball. Dip each ball into the melted butter, then roll it in the sugar and cinnamon mixture, then put it in the bundt pan. When you're done, the balls should be distributed around the bundt pan as evenly as possible.

Bake for 25 - 30 minutes, or until it's done. Let cool for a couple of minutes, then unmold onto a cooling rack and re-invert onto a plate. Serve.

Your monkey bread will rise higher and have greater structural integrity (and unmold with less trouble -- that's why there's no picture -- but if it breaks into a few pieces coming out of the bundt pan, it's no trouble to reassemble the pieces on the plate) if you use all purpose flour. I was feeling the excesses of Christmas, so I used whole wheat flour (King Arthur's white whole wheat flour, to be precise), and it got eaten with great celerity. I cannot decide whether I prefer the all purpose or the whole wheat flour, but it's very good either way. I also used Whey Low (again, the excesses of Christmas) instead of regular sugar, but I do not think it makes any difference in taste.

You can make the monkey bread gooier by sprinkling more sugar and cinnamon on top of the dough balls before baking. The version I made was somewhat sweet and had plenty of cinnamon, but I did not want it to ooze caramel, and it did not. You can also put a fair amount of sugar and cinnamon in the bottom of the bundt pan and serve it upside down, but I think that the side that's on top while the bread is baking is the prettiest side.

This is the sort of breakfast that you really want to have under your belt when the realization hits you that giving your own children gift cards for Christmas (they got other things, too; I'm not Scrooge) doesn't spare you any of the shopping, because you still have to take them to the stores on the day after Christmas, when the lines to get into the fitting rooms at Old Navy go twice around the building and into the next county. It's also the sort of breakfast that can help you reconcile yourself to the fact that you're going to have to go back to work the very next day. If you do the holiday right, exhaustion gives over to a feeling of peace and of wistfulness. You know you're going to have to go back out into the real world and you know that you're not likely to be greeted with nearly enough goodwill towards men (let alone peace on earth), but you can generate enough goodwill inside your own family and home to get you by.


Blogger bhoygary said...

All that sounds yummy but after the seventeen course meal we had the night before (yes you read well seventeen and i'm not even counting the thirteen deserts -i would give details but a lot of wine was also involved causing part amnesia), Breakfast on Boxing day sounds like a very very weird idea. In fact the whole notion of eating before new years eve sounds completely delirious to me.

1:09 PM  
Anonymous lindy said...

I have never eaten even one single grit. I am beginning to feel that this has been a serious omission.. Grits are from corn, yes? But they are not polenta?

4:38 PM  
Blogger anapestic said...

Grits is a corn product. It comes in two general types: corn grits and hominy grits. Corn grits is made by drying corn and then milling it. After the corn is milled, the bran is removed, and the remaining portion is sifted. The finest part is cornmeal, and the coarser part is grits. Hominy is corn that has been soaked in water and lye to remove the bran. It is then dried and milled to make hominy grits, which is the sort we always had when I was growing up. You also sometimes see canned hominy, which is the entire corn grain, minus the bran that was removed in the processing.

6:25 PM  
Blogger meretrice i. d'oscena said...

I didn't know that others made Monkey Bread this time of year.

My mom always made it for New Year's, and we would eat it all day, along with the hog jowl and Hoppin' John.

But we made the Monkey Bread with Whoppin' Biscuits that were cut into little pieces. And for those who don't know Jerry Clower, whoppin biscuits are named thus because you whop the can on the edge of the counter to open it.

But I'm inspired by the whole wheat flour idea. Mother only made something like Monkey Bread for the holiday- her usual motto was:
The whiter the bread, the sooner you're dead.

11:53 AM  
Blogger anapestic said...

Biscuits that come in a can (that you open by whopping, yet) is a highly amusing notion. I will have to mention that one to the partner and the kids this evening for their entertainment, but since none of them still believes in Santa Claus, I think that getting them to believe in canned biscuits is a bit of a stretch. I suppose next you'll be telling me that brownies come in a box. I was not born yesterday, you know.

1:02 PM  
Blogger meretrice i. d'oscena said...

Some people not only think that brownies come in a box, but also that grits come in an envelope such that one need only add water and microwave to enjoy that (gag) imitation butter flavor; or that (double gag) imitation cheese flavor; or that (triple gag, fall unconscious to floor, dial 911) imitation bacon flavor.

If such things existed, I would recommend that the Army drop them on our enemies.

Once, when I was working at Pier1, we got a shipment of quilts made in China. Not quilts like the double-wedding-ring designs that my grandmothers could make (with tiny, perfectly formed rows of stiches), but machine-made travesties. A co-worker of mine said it best:
"What self-respecting Southerner BUYS a quilt?!?"
I hate to sound like Julia Sugarbaker, but amen to that.
So while I assure you that I can make good scratch biscuits (and at the risk of being banned from this site), I confess that flaky-style canned/frozen biscuits are a shameful guilty pleasure of mine. Hello, layer-y goodness!

2:21 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home