Pancake kisses, bacon hugs

breakfast in naples by barbara samuelTHE SECRET OF EVERYTHING is out today! To celebrate, a love song to breakfast.


Why breakfast is the secret of everything

I suppose I should confess upfront that I am a morning person. I wake up cheery, chatty and at the very first fingers of sunlight creeping over the horizon. I know you find this annoying. I know you wish I’d stop humming under my breath as I crack eggs and start the coffee, but I can’t help it. I was born a singing lark. This does, however, offer benefits to all you blinking owls and sleepy headed in-betweens.

Once upon a time, I had a job working the breakfast shift at an upscale diner. It meant getting up at 4:30 am to creep around the dark of my teeny-tiny house so I wouldn’t wake my roommate. I dressed in my uniform with its plunging neckline (an unfortunate feature of many waitress uniforms of the early 80’s), and braided my Rapunzel hair. In the cold dark, I drove to work in my clunker, feeling—yes, I admit it–smug that I was awake before the rest of the world. Here and there, a light clicked on in a kitchen, but mostly, the world slept on. Porch lights glittered against the velvet blackness of mountains on the horizon, the air was fresh. All was newly reinvented, and it was mine.

At work, I dove into the bustle of getting the place ready for the doors to open. It smelled faintly of cleaning supplies from the night crew, of baking biscuits and potatoes grilling. Every morning, I fell in love all over again with the empty stage of tidy, waiting tables, with the clatter of cooks prepping, and the heat of flatware straight out of the dishwasher. We waitresses made pot after pot after pot of coffee, filled cream pitchers; wiped down syrup dispensers and set out glasses of ice to fill quickly with water. We drank coffee by the gallon ourselves, and snitched bacon when we could get away with it. It made me feel important to create a world of efficiency and nourishment for the hungry humans about to stumble in and beg for coffee.

This passion for breakfast arrived in a roundabout way, I must admit. My mother, who is a very good cook under many circumstances, was born an owl, and she finds early morning painful, especially when her lark child rose well before sunrise and was known to dust siblings with flour or lipstick or explore—well, never mind. It was early, that’s all.

Because she loved us, my mother did manage to get up and fix us breakfast. She believed in a hot breakfast, but cooking anything much would have been dangerous considering her eyes were barely open. So she made hot cereal. Endlessly. Malto-Meal and Ralston, Cream of Wheat and a colorless, gluey oatmeal I loathed with the considerable passion of a toddler foodie. Thankfully, she left us to our own devices once we made it to late grade school and we never had to choke down porridge again.

Not the best circumstances to fall in love with breakfast, I know. The happy accident is that my mother briefly took a job at a manufacturing plant when I was about seven. The other three children went to my grandmother’s house for the day while I stayed home with my father and walked to school on my own.

Once in awhile, my father got dressed and took me to a little café downtown, where there were individual jukeboxes along the counter and at the tables, and we ate pancakes and eggs and tea. We sat at the counter on round stools. I flipped through the jukebox offerings as if I knew what they were while he flirted with the waitresses and they flirted back, and there was usually music playing, and cigarette smoke hanging in the air with heady notes of bacon and coffee and frying onions. I loved the food—little balls of cold butter on top of my French toast, glass pitchers of syrup, tiny tubs of jelly—but mostly I loved the time with my dad, having him all to myself. Afterward, my dad would drop me off at school and I’d head up the stone steps feeling warm and special, a girl who had extraordinary experiences.

I fell in love with breakfast then and there. All good breakfasts, but especially a good café breakfast. And from that love was born a book.

At the heart of my new book, The Secret of Everything, is a restaurant called 100 Breakfasts, where a lark of a woman cooks to heal the hearts and souls of the people in her town.

It is to 100 Breakfasts that the protagonist, Tessa Harlow, comes to explore the questions that have been haunting her. She is heart sore and weary, recovering from a freak accident and trying to find answers to questions that have only just now bobbed to the surface. When she sits down at the long counter at the 100 Breakfasts Café, she unwittingly sets in motion a tangled array of connections and reveals secrets that have been hidden for a long, long time.

It is also at 100 Breakfasts that Tessa gets to know widower Vince Grasso, who is trying to heal his own family, including the troubled Natalie, a 9 year old who takes food very seriously, and is working her way through the entire list of 100 breakfasts on the menu.

The Secret of Everything was born out of my passion for breakfast, for the power it has to heal and renew, to nourish and ground. It’s a book that was born out of those days when I was a child hating oatmeal and loving the French toast at the local café; when I fought with my sisters and the mornings when my father took me out to breakfast, just the two of us, because this is, at the heart of it, a story about fathers and daughters and how that connection can make or break a woman’s spirit. Tessa’s father is nothing like my own, of course, but a father who is devoted to his child gives her permission to be as mighty as she can be.

Ironically, Tessa’s favorite breakfast is oatmeal, because in my adulthood, I learned to love great oatmeal. It is my own breakfast of choice most days. Whole grain oats served with butter and my own spiced apples that are cooked to a deep, dark flavor. Because I am that lark, so smugly and cheerfully alert at the first glimmers of dawn, it falls to me to get up and make the tea and start the coffee so it fills the air with its fragrance. I set the water boiling and set the table with cloth napkins and the good sugar bowl and the milk pitcher. I set the stage for my sleepy headed partner, sometimes a child, to come blinking to the table and fill his belly and drink his coffee.

In this small act, I am offering the most solid secret I know: breakfast is the secret of everything.

Breakfast is love.

What is your favorite breakfast?

23 thoughts on “Pancake kisses, bacon hugs

  1. Ruthie

    The first thing in my Inbox this morning, was Amazon informing me that THE SECRET OF EVERYTHING was downloaded on my Kindle. YAY! When I like a book, I ‘milk’ it. I read it nice and slow. Kind of like eating my Irish Oatmeal (with stewed apples), nice and slow.

    It’s cold and windy here in NJ. Other than going to the gym early this AM, I’m staying home. I’ve got a good book, and some hot soup cooking (escarole and bean). Perfect.

  2. Ruthie

    Oh, and my favorite breakfast? 2 poached eggs, canadian bacon, overdone homefries, whole grain toast and coffee.

  3. Laura

    Breakfast, ah, I love breakfast! I’d much rather eat breakfast than any other meal. And it seems to be hereditary, as my son loves breakfast foods, too. It’s our special treat when my husband works late. We make “dippy eggs” or pancakes or my personal favorite… french toast made with pecan raisin bread, sliced thick and soaked in a mixture of eggs and buttermilk and vanilla. Yum!!

    And now I am hungry… 🙂

  4. Barb

    I have two favorite breakfasts: one is an asparagus and Swiss omelette with hash browns and pancakes (that’s my breakfast dessert) and the other is a good breakfast burrito, like the ones at Tia Sophia’s in Santa Fe, with eggs, cheese, potatoes and black beans. Oh, and a bottomless cup of coffee to go with them.

    One of my most favorite breakfasts from my childhood was from a restaurant in Gatlinburg, TN: pecan waffles that had pecans in them, on them and they came with hot maple syrup with pecans in the syrup. Yummy!

  5. Mel

    Happy book day…my copy is hopefully winging its way across the ocean as we speak!

    I am definitely an owl not a lark but my favourite home breakfasts (once I wake up enough) would be either bircher muesli or very good raisin toast with lots of butter.

    At a cafe I either go for scrambled eggs with bacon, toast (sourdough if they have it)and something vegetableish on the side (spinach, tomato, homemade baked beans) or pancakes. Pancakes with berries or caramelized bananas or just good old butter and maple syrup (in which case bacon may also be involved though this is considered slightly odd in Oz). Mmmm pancakes. Oh and good fresh juice or hot chocolate with cinnamon, not being a coffee girl.

  6. I adore breakfast! Our Sunday ritual since the boys were born is to take them to our favourite cafe and share breakfast together, followed by a play in the park.

    My favourite breakfast? Poached eggs on multi-grain, smoked salmon, avocado salsa and chilli jam. (Considering it’s brekkie time here in OZ, I’m drooling!)

    From my childhood, my folks Indian scrambled eggs (eggs, onions, tomatoes and chilli). Delish!

  7. Lovely blog, Barbara.
    Congratulations on the launch of THE SECRET OF EVERYTHING – my copy, I hope, is already winging its way to me.
    My favorite breakfast is mushrooms cooked with chopped bacon, garlic or spring onions and fresh thyme in butter, on toast, with good coffee. If it’s a long, leisurely breakfast, I’ll start with some fruit, maybe mangoes or grapefruit or sliced, fresh peaches.
    I grew up on porridge, too, and we used to drizzle treacle or golden syrup over it to make patterns, or sprinkle dark brown sugar and we always made islands of it with milk. It was the one time we were allowed to play with our food.

  8. My favorite breakfast is bacon and big, fat buttermilk pancakes bursting with fresh blueberries and one egg, fried over medium. And of course, strong black coffee. Lord, I’m hungry.
    May have to stop somewhere on the way to work!

  9. Ruthie! Me, too, on the oatmeal with stewed apples. Mmmm.

    Pecan waffles, Barb, sound wonderful. I actually like all of your list.

    Anne, you and Nicola and your beautiful mangos! LOL. I’m so hungry for mangos and they’re just not great here right now. (PS I had no idea what treacle was in historical romances for years and years and years….! )

    Mel, you would like a bread I made for Christmas. It was an experiment (bread book in motion, don’t you know) but turned out beautifully–raisins and walnus in a rather plain dough, baked in a steamy oven to give it a great crust. It was awesome. (And I just had a panic attack, trying to remember where I found it….but I remember.)

    The Indian scrambled eggs sound a bit like huevos rancheros, Nicola. Anything with eggs and chiles get my vote!

    Yvonne, that’s a luscious description! 🙂

  10. Wow Barbara, I cannot WAIT to read this book.

    My favorite breakfast as a kid was . . . breakfast for dinner. Every once in a while my mother would make us pancakes for dinner, and to me that was just magical. It seemed so outrageous! They were a thin pancake, almost swedish type pancakes and she would make them in the shape of our initials or funny little animals. Pancakes never tasted as good in the morning. 🙂

  11. SO excited to go buy The Secret of Everything today! I LOVE breakfast and confess that I often make my 7 year old son breakfast for dinner, since he’s a major breakfast kid. The traditional stuff: scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes drizzled with butter and syrup, and if it’s Sunday, has to be poppy-seed bagels, good cream cheese and lox. P.S. I just realized that because I was a vegetarian for so long, I got very used to buying a certain brand of soy bacon, which I love, and have not eaten real bacon (nor has poor son) in over a decade. Will rectify that.

    Congrats on the new novel!

    🙂 Melissa

  12. I love a good bowl of steel cut oats with fruit and nuts. Also a fresh Asiago bagel with real butter and a bit of cream cheese. And I’ve bookmarked quite of few of the breakfasts from TSOE, which I thought was your best book ever. Of course, I think that with every new book of yours. Thanks for another great read!

  13. Oh, thank you, Cindy! It always makes me so nervous when a new book arrives on the shelves.

    Melissa, I am personally hooked on a brand of soy sausages, and like them better than the real thing, so I totally get that. My partner is such a bacon fanatic that he would probably cry if I tried soy bacon. LOL. (It’s so funny that we have twinsy titles: Secret of Joy and Secret of Everything. Yay us!)

  14. Barb

    Barbara, what soy sausages do you like? I’d like to try them. I’d rather try a faux sausage that’s been recommended so that I don’t waste money trying something that’s awful. My husband feels the same about bacon as your partner – he’d probably curl up into the fetal position if I tried to switch him to pretend bacon.

    By the way – “The Secret of Everything” was delivered to me today via I’m dying to go home and get started on it.

  15. Shannon

    I love all breakfasts, but my favorite is decadence to me…. a cup of tea, a selection of cookies and an almond joy candy bar with strawberries.
    Buying the book tomorrow! It has arrived just in time as I have just finished “An echo to the bone” by Diana Gabaldon. Happy New Year All!

  16. Barb, I love the Morning Star brand of soy sausages. They really have good flavor and texture. (I go for the patty style of sausage, FWIW)

    Shannon that sounds perfectly juicy.

  17. Barbara, first of all, huge congratulations and hugs on your latest release. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Do you have an Aus/NZ release date or was it simultaneous with the US?

    Second, I can go all day without eating anything else (which is not actually good for me, I know) provided I’ve had a ‘good’ breakfast. By good, I mean substantial — grilled bacon, fried/poached or scrambled eggs, maybe some fried mushrooms, even some left over potato from the night before fried in a little canola oil, and a slice or two of toast together with a couple of mugs of Earl Grey Tea. Dh would add sliced tomatoes sprinkled with a little sugar and chopped fresh basil then fried in the pan to that mix but I’m really not into cooked tomatoes.

  18. Barb

    Thank you for the info about the pretend sausage. Next time I need some for a recipe, I’ll try it.

    I wanted to let you know that I read “The Secret of Everything” on New Year’s Day. I could not put it down. I loved it! I fell in love with Natalie, bless her heart. The characters were great, the story line was wonderful and, as usual, I loved the way you described everything – especially the food. Thank you for writing such a wonderful book. What a great way to start the new year.

  19. Barb, thanks for that! Natalie is definitely one of my favorite characters, EVER.

    Yvonne, no Aus/NZ specific release this time (sadly). Your breakfast sounds great.

  20. Had to come back and tell you I finished the Secret of Everything and passed it on to my sister-in-law immediately. I wish I had a Vita to cook for me everyday. <3 I love, love, love breakfast, especially things like eggs Benedict and French toast or homemade berry and chocolate chip waffles. And my sister and I were SO Jade and Natalie! lol

  21. Wallace Robertos

    Thanks for that! My mother recently harvested her garden full of tomatoes , and I find myself the owner of two or five buckets worth! Of course I couldnt eat them all, but I did find a website full of tons more tomato recipes there. A website dedicated the topic!! Crazy what you can find on the internet these days!!

  22. Ha! It is crazy what you can find on the web, Wallace. I put a bunch of green tomatoes on the windowsill in October, and they’re ripening now. Amazing!

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