Sunday, March 31, 2013

Breakfast Rebel: From Grilled Cheese to Dumplings

Vanessa's Chicken Dumplings for breakfast
I sometimes pity my mother.  Trying to feed me as a child couldn’t have been easy.  There was a crazy diet and a long vegetarian phase, but those came later.  Harder must have been the elementary years.  When most kids were happily munching on Cheerios and PB&J’s, I would blanket reject entire categories of foods. Sandwiches: gross. Juice: too sweet.   Yogurt: only acceptable direct from the refrigerator- I wouldn’t touch it once it had turned to liquid sitting in my lunch box for a couple of hours.

Breakfast in particular was a daily battle. I hated cereal, cold and hot.  Toast was out of the question, especially when it was the whole-wheat bread my mother painstakingly made from scratch each week (oh what I wouldn’t give for that bread today!).

Finally, after many a sunrise conflict, my mother brokered a compromise: I could eat anything I wanted for breakfast, as long as I ate something.  So for my entire sixth grade year, each morning I would wake up and grate cheese.  You see bread, even my mother’s thick wheat bread, was okay as long as it sandwiched gooey melted cheddar and was toasted to buttery perfection on a skillet.  Grated cheddar was the staple ingredient in my other breakfast go-to that year, when spread between two tortillas and toasted until the cheese oozed out the sides.  So I spent an entire year eating grilled cheese sandwiches and quesadillas for breakfast, which in my opinion were two perfect foods, perfectly suited for the most important meal of the day.

In some ways much has changed since those years.  I still eschew cold cereals but have grown to love those multi-grain hot cereals and rolled oats that I cringed at as a child.  I’ll eat toast, as long as it is from a good bakery, and eggs, as long as they are fresh from a farm.

But part of this rebellious breakfast spirit still lingers.  On a recent morning, for instance, none of my usual choices looked appetizing.  But staring up from a basket in the pantry were some gnarled Okinawa potatoes I had recently purchased.  I pierced a couple and microwaved them for a few minutes until tender.  A pat of butter dripped and disappeared down the chasms formed in the sweet, soft purple flesh. A sprinkle of sea salt later and breakfast was served.

For anyone who appreciates the ritual of dim sum, the idea of savory dumplings for breakfast is far from foreign.  Asians in general take a much less sweet approach to their morning larder.  Dumplings, pho, congee- these are the nourishment of early morning hours in their countries of origin. 

It is in that vein perhaps that I have added a new, nontraditional, non-Western breakfast to my occasional morning routine.  On a recent visit to Beijing street-food style restaurant Vanessa’s Dumpling House, I was thrilled to discover their delectable handmade dumplings are available to take home frozen, by the bag of thirty.  Not living exactly near either their East Village or Williamsburg locations I thought what better way to satisfy my dumpling cravings than keeping a ready supply in the freezer at all times?

Little did I realize that such a craving would not hit at the usually mid-afternoon snack time hour, or dinnertime, but around nine am one weekday morning as I trolled through the cupboards looking for something other than oatmeal to fill my rumbling belly.

Four dumplings went straight from the freezer and into a small pot of boiling water.  Eight minutes later I fished them out with a slotted spoon, deposited them in a bowl, and doused the dish with black vinegar and a good squeeze of Sriracha.  Eating with a side of miso soup, it was a breakfast my eleven-year old self would have been proud of. 

My poor mother.  All those years I thought I was being a rebel, insisting on breakfast that was anything but normal fare in our small California town. Turns out the sort of savory food I was craving, millions of people were already eating, granted most of them were half way around the world. Thanks to handmade frozen dumplings, interesting sweet potatoes, good bakeries, and well, my own adult kitchen, I can now eat whatever I want for breakfast, as long as I eat something. 

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell  

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