Breakfast Traditions

BREAKFAST TRADITIONS (another in my Blowing on Embers series)

Breakfast: the most important meal of the day, they say.

Always the first one up in the mornings, Mother made sure we had a good breakfast to start our school days off right. In those days before frozen waffles, toaster pop-ups, or smoothies, breakfast was a pretty big deal. And we never rushed out of the house without it.

Our breakfasts were varied. There was that old standard: bacon, eggs, and toast or similar combinations of protein and carbohydrates. Sometimes we had oatmeal and cinnamon toast; other mornings it might be Cream of Wheat; occasionally pancakes or waffles were on the menu, though most likely on the weekends. And sometimes we went into the kitchen to nothing more than dry cereal and milk. I was never much fond of cereal days—those were the days when my stomach started growling by mid-morning.

By my calculation, while we children were living at home, Mother prepared nothing short of 10,000 breakfasts. When my youngest brother left the nest for good, Mother made an announcement to our father: she was retiring from breakfast duty. From that day forward, before he left for work, Daddy made his own breakfasts (willingly, I might add) before Mother gave a thought to getting out of bed. If not for the cat pawing at her face on the pillow every morning, Mother might have remained in bed for a sinfully, but well-deserved, long time.

But back to breakfast. In addition to all that typical morning fare, there were two dishes in our breakfast repertoire that were, I believe, unique.

One was reserved for one day and one day only each year—Christmas. No one was allowed in the living room where the tree and presents were until we’d all eaten breakfast, and that breakfast was always the same: strawberry shortcake. I loved strawberry shortcake as a dessert and thought it was even more special as Christmas breakfast. As I look back on it, I think there were two reasons we were served this delicacy on Christmas morning. The first, and maybe most important, was that it was quick and easy. For one day a year, Mother didn’t have to get up extra early to have breakfast on the table.

The second reason was perhaps a little more wily. What kid wouldn’t be thrilled to have dessert for breakfast? If we were just as eager (or almost) for breakfast as for presents, and if breakfast was just as much a part of our holiday tradition as the rest of that big day, then there wouldn’t be any peeking under the tree before the parents were ready. There wouldn’t be any whining (well, not much, anyway) for everyone to hurry up so we could finally open the door to the living room. Whatever the reason, that strawberry shortcake breakfast was always a success.

The other unusual breakfast we had on occasion had a regional basis. Mother grew up in the Great Smoky Mountains of southwestern North Carolina, a place where blackberries grow profusely on the mountainsides. Along with her mother and three sisters, she spent many afternoons picking blackberries, so many that they were able to can plenty of jars for use in the winter. And one of the ways blackberries were served in her home was stewed with a little sugar and poured over homemade buttered biscuits. It was a breakfast treat summer or winter.

Mother kept this breakfast tradition alive in our South Carolina home. We didn’t have access to fresh blackberries and frozen blackberries weren’t to be found in the freezer aisles in grocery stores, but stores did carry canned blackberries. Not the blackberries in gooey thick syrup for pies, but just plain old blackberries packed in water. All Mother had to do was put them in a pot on the stove, add a bit of sugar and a little more water, and heat them until the berries were warm and the sugar dissolved. In my opinion, there’s just nothing better than a plateful of biscuits, halved and buttered, smothered in blackberries, and swimming in that purple liquid. Mm-mmm good!

Needless to say, we’ve maintained both of these breakfast traditions in our home. And nothing has tickled me more than to discover that our now grown children have done the same in theirs. No doubt, one day some child in generations hence will look up to a parent and ask, “Why do we eat blackberries on biscuits?” or, “Why do we eat strawberry shortcake on Christmas morning?” and the parent will have no better answer than, “I don’t know. We just always have. It’s tradition.”

And that’s just fine with me.

Deep Freeze

Winter went into overdrive around here a couple of weeks ago. We live in the high mountains of western North Carolina so, even though we live in the south, we’re used to cold winters. It’s not unusual for temperatures to drop into the single digits or into negative territory. We experienced a frigid -32° one year—and, no, that wasn’t the wind chill factor. Almost always, though, those cold spells are short and interspersed with warmer temps.

This time was a little different. The -5° to +5° days lasted far longer than usual. Long enough for mountain waterfalls to transform themselves into a paradise for ice climbers. (Tip: don’t try this at home, kids!) The damp seeping between rock-lined roadsides turned into massive icicle displays, and our fast-moving mountain streams and rivers froze solid. Nothing out of the ordinary for some parts of the globe, I know, but around here it was unusual enough for the Gnome and me to decide that, in spite of the cold, we wanted to get out there and see some solid water, camera in hand.

It was late afternoon when we left home so we didn’t get to check out as many streams as we’d hoped. Besides, we quickly got sidetracked. Still, it was a fun adventure and we did manage to get a few photos. It finally warmed up some and, with a few exceptions, most of our daylight hours have been above freezing for a while now. Colder weather will return soon enough. Who knows what photo ops we’ll find then. In the meantime, here are a few of the scenes we captured on our field trip.

 

We had to stop the car when we came upon this sight. If you look closely you’ll see a small stream of water shooting out of the icy sculpture created by the fountain (right). The high winds of a few days before had blown the water to the left to create another sculpture. Cool!

Rocky roadside cliffs have turned into giant icicle displays everywhere you turn.

We never pass up an opportunity to observe and photograph deer.

The trees obscure this scene, but we kept coming upon mountainsides covered in ice from peak to base where water had oozed from rock seams to create what looks like frozen waterfalls.

 

 

This great blue heron was clearly frustrated in its search for food on the frozen river. 

rsz_heron_wings_2

We’re not used to seeing dogs walk on top of rivers.

No ice here, but we can never resist the sight of old, abandoned houses. When we saw this one on a distant hillside, we were forced to take a detour. 

 

My Other Blog

If you’re a dedicated reader of Living on the Diagonal, you know I also began blogging for Mother Earth News a few months ago. Just thought I’d take today to remind you I have a site over there if you’d like to check it out. I Blog for Mother Earth News-1In fact, Mother Earth News is running a contest for its bloggers right now—to see how much traffic we’re getting for articles posted between December 1 and January 31. If you’d like to help me make a better showing, all you need to do is pop over there and click on each of the articles written since December 1st. (Even if it’s not your thing. Do it as a favor.) Simple as that. Thanks in advance.

(Sharing is helpful, too. Just click on your favorite social media icon(s) to the left of each article. Easy peasy.)

My most recent article tells about our early experiences gathering sap to make our own maple syrup. I’ll share more maple sugaring details next week. The week after, you can find my favorite chili recipe. It features sweet potatoes (or winter squash), and it’s delish!

Mother Earth News is where you’ll find other recipes, including my popular vegetarian quiche, my award-winning cornbread, my mom’s delicious pineapple-zucchini bread, and the world’s best kale salad (in my opinion, anyway).

I’ve written about how to make gardening easier with posts on making and using bean arches, growing in raised beds, and letting perennials and volunteers do your gardening work for you.

I’ve also posted a couple of articles telling about the Mother Earth News Fair, a unique sustainable living event that takes place in multiple venues across the country every year.

All that and more to come.  You can find all my Mother Earth News blog posts here.  Hope you’ll stop by for a visit.

Real Family Values

Real Family Values

A few years back, my colleagues and I shared an offsite holiday potluck lunch and departmental meeting. The newest member of our team offered his home as our gathering spot. In addition to his work with us, he designed sustainable houses, his own among them, and he was as eager to show it off as we were to see it.

Clearly, our first order of business was to tour his lovely home. The last room we visited belonged to his pre-school-aged son. One of our group, the mother of a child just three years older, slowly looked around the room. She seemed puzzled, maybe even troubled.

We discovered the source of her distress when she said, “Where are his toys? Doesn’t he have any toys?” Indeed, the room was almost spartan. It held a few books, a clothes chest, and a junior bed complete with a large, lime-green, leaf shaped canopy that seemed to turn the bed into a sort of cocoon. Her entire house, on the other hand, was overflowing with toys from gift-happy aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

Our host explained that their previous home had been cluttered with both toys and other belongings. When they moved, they made a conscious decision to rid themselves of as many “things” as possible. With an impressionable young child to raise, they wanted to model a new ethic—one of simplicity, one of sustainability, one where experiential activities trumped sedentary ones. No more television, no more oversized, nonbiodegradable toys to trip over and litter the place. Instead, they had chosen to live a life where doing replaced being.

Not long after that day, my colleague told me that as the weekend neared, his little boy had come to him and eagerly asked, “What adventure are we going on Saturday, Daddy?” That’s the way he saw his life. It’s the way his parents had presented it: a life of adventure. He knew he could look forward to one every weekend.

Their adventures consisted of simple things—watching the university’s new wind turbine go up, checking out a crane at work during the construction of a classroom building, ambling through a street festival, spending a morning at a you-pick blueberry farm.

Over the years I’ve watched this family with appreciation and admiration. In the early years, I was privy to tales of weekend activities as soon as they’d occurred. In fact, I’d encountered the boy and his mother even before the father came to work with us. The Gnome and I were on a walking trail and she was with another mother, their children in tow. The son was only two at the time, but he was on a balance bike, a two-wheeled pedal-less bicycle. He was getting started early.

Now from afar, I usually get my accounts via social media. There were pizza-making sleepovers. There were kid-friendly street festivals. As the boy grew, so did the adventures. Snowy days meant not only sledding and snowball fights, but igloo building. The family built mini-bike trails on the back of their property for the boy to ride. They put in a kid-size zip line. They went backpacking. They engaged in cosplay—Halloween’s an adventure extraordinaire.

When the boy was old enough, he joined the Cub Scouts—they’re all about adventure. It wasn’t long before Dad became the group’s leader.

The boy is ten now. These days father and son can be found mountain biking. Mom joins in on scouting activities and weekend camping trips. They visit state and national parks. They go to the beach where they build complex castles and bury each other in the sand. They fly kites. They canoe. Evenings at home may find the three of them playing strategy games with friends.

It’s kind of funny when you think about it. This family is doing something revolutionary in the world of giant, expensive (though often cheaply made and short-lived) toys and games: they’ve gone old school. They’re doing it the way their grandparents and great-grandparents did it—making do with what they have, turning everyday things into exciting experiences. Finding fun in simple things. In the process, they’re teaching values, building a rich childhood, creating a close-knit family life.

And the thing is, it isn’t hard; it doesn’t have to take money. It may take a little imagination. It may take a few hard discussions with the grown-ups, mostly grandparents, who want to shower the kiddies with love via tangible gifts. It certainly takes time. But isn’t it worth it?