Tuesday, February 15, 2011

turkish breakfast, revisited

The other day I was at work, and a woman came in and ordered breakfast.  She had her New York Times with her, and she knew exactly what she wanted.
Half a baguette, toasted, with butter.  And a few slices of gruyere, topped with a an equal number of slices of prosciutto.  And four or five olives.  She filled her coffee cup from the pot as I started cutting the first baguette of the day.
I created her perfect breakfast, slightly off the menu as it was.  I created it with love as if it was going to feed one of my very own children.  She knew what she wanted, and I wanted her to have it, to start her day with the accomplishment of her ideal breakfast.
I wouldn't be honest with you if I didn't admit that I was a little jealous.

These days the morning starts off at breakneck speed, and it just continues on from there.  On the weekdays it is 6:30, and Sadie is still in her pajamas sneaking another chapter of her babysitter's club book, and Rosie is just buried under her comforter emitting an occasional meow when I suggest that she emerge.  Then it is 6:40, and I am throwing apples and cheese sticks into patterned lunchboxes, and maybe one girl streaks through the kitchen in underwear only, and I try to find out what that girl might want for breakfast, and lately they are just cruising down to the table at 6:58, exactly 2 minutes before Joey will drive the Subaru to school ("with or without you young ladies!")
Lately it's toast.  And that's it.  Today we snuck in an egg, as there was an extra minute or two.
Then they are off. And I keep moving at the same speed.

But I've been thinking lately about leisure.  About time.  About slowness.  I've been thinking about the little things that make all of that feel possible.  And I have been obsessing, yes obsessing, about Turkish breakfast.

It's been almost a year since I went to Turkey--since my loveliest friend Lissa and I got on a plane and showed up at Molly and Aurel's little brightly painted apartment in Istanbul.  That trip was like a life outside of life, and I still don't quite know how it happened, or rather, how we made it happen.  It was one of the moments of my my life where I felt like I was on the verge of everything, and somehow wandering those streets in search of the next slice of sticky baklava evoked the sensation that I was wandering through my life in the best kind of lost way, and I was finding exactly what I was looking for.

And like the baklava, life was tasting pretty good to me.  That, I suppose, is why I travel whenever I get the chance.

So almost a year later, I'm thinking again about those cold and upwardly winding streets.  Even after all this time, that trip stays with me, and I'm thinking about the buzzing of all of my cells when I got home. And about how breakfast says so much about the culture that eats it.

I love the French breakfast that I get to serve at work.  Whatever the variations, I love the luxury and sheer joy of that buttered baguette, maybe with a tang of cheese and a salt of thinly sliced meat.  It's all about the bread, and that's wonderful.  And in the same way that that baguette is so French, so lovely and so something that feels like breakfast in another place, Turkish breakfast makes me actually be back on that trip--it makes me start my day with slowness and perspective in a way that granola just wont do.  It's that I care enough about what I am about to eat to actually chop some parsley, to pull together so many elements onto one plate, just because I want to.  It is like I am making myself a little piece of art.  I am worth a little piece of art, especially in the morning.  After all, on any given day, you never know what might be ahead.

So what is this Turkish breakfast? Luckily, it's an improvisation of sorts.
From what I know, I can say with utmost certainty that there must be an egg--just one, and most likely soft boiled.  Then a hunk of bread is a good idea.  And there must be olives. Because you are in Turkey (even if you're not, you must pretend).  Beyond that, it would be a good idea to include a few dates to jolt your day into existence and to give a perfect balance to the olives.  Make a little salad with a few greens and whatever herbs you have just lying around or growing on your Turkish terrace.  A little olive oil and salt gets tossed about with that.  Soft cheese- feta or some perfect slice of something.  And if you have some, you might as well have a little bit of really good honey in which to dip your bread, or some sort of interesting spread.  
That is all.  But you can add anything else, as long as it is wonderful and you really want to eat it.  This is a meal for pure enjoyment.  

I would travel all the time if I could.  But I am thankful for breakfast, so that I can travel right here.


  1. i loved your post last year, love being reminded again of this turkish breakfast and of such mornings. so many delicious things to see just as you are and places to see when you get there. love watching with you. i still carry the colors of the spice market and the tiles and the tiny apartment. for now i see you all in your morning dream. and reach for a single egg.

  2. here's a cooking question...tell me the secret to the perfect soft boiled egg please!!!

  3. You'll hate me for this answer Cea, but really? I intentionally don't get it down to a science so that sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. Is that crazy? The worst that can happen is that it's just hard boiled (or I guess underdone white, ick), but I'm always so proud of myself when I take it out at just the right time. But I'd say start the egg in cold water, bring the whole thing to a low boil, and boil for 3-4 minutes- that should do it.

  4. Takes me back. That's all I can say. Oh, and the bread seller going through those skinny, beautiful streets, and the basket with the TL going down and the bread coming up. And then, there was that cheese. And while we're on the subject, I better look at the plum tart recipe. Yum. Lissa

  5. I just came across your blog...was looking for how to freeze spinach, got sidetracked by turkish breakfast. i too long for turkey, and their breakfast. your words on how you travel got me. looking forward to reading...