This Sunday is Father's Day, and in celebration of the guys that taught us about coffee, or bacon, or the importance of pie for breakfast, the Extra Crispy team took a stroll down memory lane and thought about what breakfast means for us and our good old dads.
Margaret Eby, Senior Culture Editor: No disrespect to my Irish mom, who can put together a delicious Irish stew or a crunchy-yet-airy loaf of soda bread with the best of them, but it’s my dad who receives kitchen gadgets for every birthday, Christmas, and special occasion. On Sunday mornings growing up, I would often wake up to the smell some delicious baked good he had assembled in the early morning hours: the scent of buttery scones, an experimental muffin, or a cinnamon-date coffee cake drifting upstairs, cartoon-like, to coax us out of our beds.
But Tom Eby’s particular specialty, as anyone in the greater Eby diaspora will tell you, is his pies. He makes the crust himself with nothing more than flour and butter and a little cold water. “You want the dough to be tacky, not sticky,” he has told me time and again, though on my own I can never seem to get the consistency quite right. (I have considered tattooing the flour: butter ratio on my wrist, but I’m not sure it would help.) Rhubarb, when he can get it, is fine pie filling, but the classic—the kind of pie my brothers and I clamor for when we’re visiting my folks in Mississippi—is apple. And if you’re lucky enough that the whole pie hasn’t been demolished for dessert, the sweetest way to finish it is cold, for breakfast. “Can’t let good pie go to waste,” my dad will say with a wink, pushing the slice across the kitchen table, often accompanied with a cup of tea. And you wonder how I came to work at a breakfast site.
Teresa Sabga, Assistant Food and Drink Editor: Mother can mix the best salad dressing, but she can only do that. Simply said, my father’s the distinguished chef in the Sabga household. Every Sunday, in the weeeee hours of the morning, my mom, my siblings, and I are seduced by soothing smells of onion, cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla, and/or garlic. Our toes curl and our noses twitch as enticing aromas make their way up the stairs and into our bedrooms. Dad’s in the kitchen, of course. All plans to sleep in disappear and in a split second my family of seven hovers over the stove and peeks in the oven to see what’s cooking. My dad’s classics include fried breadfruit chips, French toast, curried fish, and coconut bake. His specialty and a beloved fan favorite is a traditional frittata. My father shows his love through serving his family the best damn food—and homemade bloody marys to send it down smoothly. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Kate Welsh, Assistant Culture Editor: While my mom is the main chef in the Welsh household, my dad has his specialties. He makes incredible fried rice; he is in charge of the weekly sourdough bread making; he mans the grill with aplomb; and he is a superb ice cream scooper (which is to say, he knows the right amount is “a lot"). But I have one particular memory that stands out for its unmistakeable dad-ness.
Each summer during my elementary school years, I competed on my town’s dive team. On the morning of the big final meet of the season, my dad was tasked with making me breakfast and driving me there. While I was groggily pulling on my swimsuit, my dad asked what I wanted to eat. I’m sure I mumbled something about an English muffin—my breakfast of choice for years—and he headed to the kitchen to prepare it for me. By the time I was downstairs, it was time to go. I grabbed my breakfast, placed by my dad on a folded paper towel, and we went out to the car.
As we drove—sitting in the front seat next to my dad, oldies on the radio, early morning air blowing through the windows—I bit into the English muffin and had a moment of confusion. Between the slices of English muffin wasn’t the jam I was expecting. And it wasn’t the butter, or the honey, or even the peanut butter. This was chocolate. This was chocolate with more chocolate. Instead of the toppings my mom would have chosen to make sure I was eating the right things before a meet, he had thickly smeared Nutella on both halves of the English muffin and then, in a stroke of genius, sprinkled the whole thing with mini M&Ms. It was wondrous. And when I expressed this, when I confirmed toppings with him, he just smiled and said, in typical Papa Welsh understatement, “I just thought it sounded good.”
Meredith Turits, Editorial Director: I don’t know where the spoon came from. Or the bowl, either. Only that I always remember them both being in the kitchen for as long as I lived in my childhood home, and that my father will make sure they each continue to outlive my tenure.
At this point, they’re both damaged from the daily wear, being a necessary part of his weekday breakfast routine: the spoon that once had a black wooden handle is now only a slim silver stick that you can barely hold onto; and the off-white, ribbed bowl has born a substantial chip so long that I can’t imagine what it might look like whole. Each morning, my father will take the bowl and assemble within it Cheerios topped with banana slices, all doused with skim milk. He’ll use the spoon to eat it, accompanied by a glass of orange juice, while he reads the local newspaper. He’ll hand-wash the dishes so he has them fresh for the next day. And, if he can’t find one or the other, he’ll panic. My mother and I have seen it.
I don’t know how many years he’s done this for. His glasses have gotten stronger. The dishes look like they’ve gone through hell, if only the hell of suburban routine. But there are few things in the world that make him happier than 10 minutes with breakfast.
Kat Kinsman, Senior Food and Drink Editor: Just because I can’t picture my dad (Pup, I call him) at the breakfast table doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. He’d already left for work by the time I sprinted past it, rumpled and overslept for homeroom, and on the weekends, I’d stumble downstairs and tumble headlong into a fragrant cloud of curry, goulash or whatever international cookbook experiment he’d planned for the midday meal. There was no coffee in our home as a matter of course—I had to learn about that on the mean streets of Cincinnati—but in his sixties, Pup embraced the single-cup Senseo maker (less fuss). Around ten years ago, he began sending me email screeds about his fondness for particular blends ("I came by some Timothy’s decaffeinated Colombian coffee in K-cups and now order them from Amazon. Just bought 100. When we move I will put in a standing order.”) and disdain for others ("This week the flavored coffee has been blueberry muffin. One person told me she liked it. I will not drink blueberry muffin coffee. I have some standards.”). I have them all saved in a folder and they shall remain there for the rest of time.
When I visited my parents last December, the bulk of their belongings (coffee maker, too, I assume) was swaddled in bubble wrap. Just days before, and for the first time in 46 years, my mother had an address separate from Pup’s—a nursing home with an excellent memory care program. In the brief interregnum before his move to my sister's, alone in the predawn hours, Pup grabbed his car keys and headed out for breakfast somewhere he knew would be open. He had coffee and an Egg McMuffin the morning I arrived, and he told me he'd enjoyed them greatly. I will take his word for it.
Monica Burton, Assistant Strategist: Summertime visits to my dad in California were free from rules, save the ones I imposed on myself (I deemed Kill Bill inappropriate for someone my age and refused to watch even as my younger brother sat riveted to the screen). Meal times, then, didn’t adhere to the structure we were used to during the school year, and breakfast wasn’t exactly a priority – until, we started buying McDonald’s hash browns during the summer of 2003. The undeniably delicious fried potato pockets were a draw, sure, but more than that, the grease-soaked paper holding them held the possibility of winning millions.
That summer, McDonald’s was running one of their Monopoly promotions. My dad and I left the house early (all-day breakfast a thing of the distant future) to peel back stickers in the hopes of coming across the coveted Park Place. We mostly won more hash browns, with the occasional McFlurry an especially welcome treat. But that was fine with me. The ritual, lending some memorable structure to an otherwise aimless Berkeley summer, was always worth waking up for.
Maxine Builder, Staff Writer: My dad recently decamped to an isolated island in Penobscot Bay where he has created his own gentleman’s homestead, complete with a miniature apple orchard and the family’s bichon frise who he treats like a hunting dog. In this world he’s built for himself, meals take on an exaggerated significance since the only other scheduled activities on any given day are the rise and fall of the tide over the mudflats, and while the inevitable lobster dinner is a nice treat, it is breakfast with my dad in this place, his favorite place, that I most enjoy.
Every morning in Maine starts with a fresh pot of coffee, served in vintage Fireking mugs that my dad has salvaged from local junk shops. Each of us cuts off thick slice of artisanal bread from the Blue Hill Food Co-op, freshly baked and only available on Tuesdays and Fridays. We take our toast and slather it with almond butter and blueberry jam made by an artist who lives across the island. And that’s it. We let the dog out to run around in the yard while we sit on the porch, sip coffee, and talk about the books plan on reading that day. It’s such a simple breakfast yet it still satisfies, and every time I’ve tried recreate that meal back in New York City—making coffee the same way, serving it in my own salvaged Fireking mug, and even using the same blueberry jam as he does—it’s never as filling. Somehow, I can only find this breakfast in Maine, with my dad, during that precious window of time between the snowmelt and the emergence of mosquitoes when that island is the most beautiful place in the world.
Ryan Grim, Site Director: Dad would take us to the Frisch’s Big Boy on Route 48 in Centerville, Ohio, and we'd eat all the pineapple, pancakes, and bacon our not-yet-acid-reflux-addled bodies could handle. He’d get out there for less than 15 bucks total. He loves a deal. Back then, a kid could cruise the buffet all day for $2.50. Can you imagine? We would each eat at least three plate-fulls of breakfast and love it, and he would spend as little as a dad could spend and still make three kids that overjoyed. When he cooked breakfast at home, he’d come down the stairs in a fuzzy brown bathrobe and post up in front of the stove. When I was very young, I used to think the white stitching on the breast of the robe was his initials, or something unique to him or our family. It looked like a G for Grim. I imagined it was some sort of special, personalized robe and never asked about it because little kids are weird and not good at figuring things out. Years later, I saw him wearing the same robe and noticed it was a Christian Dior logo, not a personal monogram whatsoever. I was surprised because Dad is not a Dior Dad. All this robe stuff is neither here nor there aside from the fact that the brown robe and Dad making breakfast are stored in the same memory nook. Also: The robe smelled gross—or so I thought. I figured there was no way he washed the robe because he wore it so often and that’s why it smelled. Any time I would get near him as he cooked breakfast I would make sure to smell the robe, and even though it was rank, I was cool with it. It was a comfortable grossness. Like when it’s your fart and it’s not so bad to you and no one else. Later on, when I wasn’t as dumb and thought things through a little more, I realized what was really going on: It wasn’t the robe that smelled. It was his coffee breath mixed with morning breath. He’d drink a pot of coffee while frying a package of bacon and a dozen eggs like it was as easy as breathing. The bacon would cool on paper towels while he fried the eggs, and while there was never endless pineapple or banana pudding, it ruled in its own way.