Small World — Our culinary calendar

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

How many times a week does your wife ask you what day it is? Or vice versa, how many times do you ask her the same question? These questions are almost certain to be part of your conversation if you are, like us, retired and without steady — or unsteady — employment. Well established on the sidelines of life, we retirees don’t normally have projects, programs, special events, or other obligations that rope us into the life swirling around us. We are detached; life flows by; one day is like another.

So how do we manage, how do we keep track of the lingering force-fed commitments that bind us? The answer is we devise schemes for remembering and fitting into a modern world — that demand our active participation. In Medieval times and other periods where religion set the agenda, time is set off and remembered by saints’ birthdays. “Three days before the Feast of St. Henry,” they might say as a memory aide. Or, in an artfully designed modern autocracy there will be national holidays with marching bands aplenty.

In our house we keep up with the changing calendar with breakfasts: each day of the week has its own special menu. Every morning we know what day of the week it is by looking at the plate set before us as we stagger from bed to breakfast. Who needs saints' days or a nation’s victory commemorations when there are tasty dishes to direct us?

On Monday, normally there is cold cereal (oatmeal starting in November). For me, never with milk, always with yogurt and cut-up dried or fresh fruit if there is any in the larder.

The next day is Tuesday and a Middle Eastern breakfast is served. Olives, white cheese, honey, flat bread, orange juice and black coffee — the latter two every day of the week without fail.

Wednesday is marked with bagels, toasted and generously covered with cream cheese, sometimes the variety with smoked salmon blended in.

Thursday, that is most Thursdays…depending on whether or not the papers have issued a negative cholesterol warning…one fried egg. A shrimp omelet may substitute if there is seafood from the night before. Biscuits are, of course welcome with any meal, as is cornbread.

Then there is Friday, with toast and jam, jelly, marmalade, or (rarely) peanut butter. This is also the fallback meal if any of the prescribed meals fails to appear.

Finally, there is Saturday where the meal serves two purposes. First, the menu serves to mark the closing day of the week. Second, it is a reminder of my Georgian heritage. It is a rare one for Maine: grits with bacon, sausage, or ham. If company has descended on us, we might add an egg. My mother used to serve chicken jelly with grits but that hasn’t made it to the table in this century. Too bad — what is to be done with those bits of chicken wings, backs, livers, gizzards and such? They used to be heated with gravy and gelatin to rest overnight. Delicious, but gone from the menu, alas!

So, there we have it — the entire week laid out with knife and fork, leaving the cook without the anxiety of internal debate about what to prepare. I often wonder what other households do to get the day started in the morning. A thimble of espresso coffee, as in Italy? Or a glass of red wine, as in France? Or, if you have ever over-nighted in Asia, a serving of seaweed and porridge or whatever that is on breakfast trays in Japan or China?

The diet-denying winner would be England, where your plate is piled high with grilled kidneys, tomatoes, eggs, and a host of other things.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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