I recently read an article, 50 of the World's Best Breakfasts, and was pretty pleased to find my all-time favourite, the Full English, at the top of the list. Let's face it, there is nothing like a greasy fry-up of eggs, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, baked beans, black pudding, fried bread and a cup of strong, hot, sweet builders' tea to start the day. Except, of course, for the impending heart attack that will probably show up shortly after. But as a broke graduate student, it couldn't be beaten for value.
Sadly, however much I wanted to, there was no way my grad student diet could continue without some serious health issues, so I had to reluctantly grow up, and make those changes that would led to a reasonably healthier lifestyle. One of these changes was cooking at home more often. Of course, this led to my current food writing career which has taken off a lot more than I could have hoped for, and it was that one small step that helped me along the way.
Breakfasts have always been an important tradition in Indian culture and families. Since I was little, as far back as I can remember, every morning has started with a hot breakfast. We started school at 9 AM, and my mom had to leave for work at 8 in the morning. So a lot of the breakfasts we had were either prepped late in the evening, or I would hear my mom up at 5 AM in the kitchen, making sure the family was going to be fed. A hot breakfast usually meant a pretty elaborate set up. Dosa batter was ground and fermented overnight, with chutneys and condiments already made. A hot potato bhaji curry would be made in the morning, simmering on the gas stove next to my mom who would be frying up hot, crispy dosas. Once we'd grumbled our way out of bed, we would get dressed in our school uniforms, make sure our backpacks were packed and then sit down for breakfast. The dosas, or rotis, or hot pressed sandwiches would come flying out at us, and we gobbled as much as we could before racing out of the door behind our mom to get to school on time.
The breakfast habit continued until just after college, but when I left home for university, time started getting more fluid, as classes and socialising cut into food time. I fell off the habit of eating a healthy breakfast, instead, relying on coffee and the odd breakfast sandwich to keep me going. And once I got to grad school, apart from those occasional full Englishes, breakfast completely fell off the radar.
This continued – until I had my first baby. My child is a morning child. A lark! What did I do to deserve this?
Breakfast was back on the menu, especially considering the fact that it became Adz's main meal. She is a hearty breakfast eater. At any given point, she can easily chow down Weetabix with berries or bananas, buttered and jammy toast, giant bowlfuls of porridge with more fruit and honey and raisins, and pretty much anything else that she has going on around. Adz and her dad have special breakfast days, where they make waffles, pancakes or the aforementioned full English breakfasts. I join them when I can drag myself out of bed, but brunches in the house are now pretty legendary too, give or take a couple mimosas.
Along with a healthy breakfast, Kay and I have also got into the habit of taking a quick multi-vitamin to keep our systems healthy. Vitamins and I have had a love-hate relationship for a while – have you ever had a spoonful of cod-liver oil shoved down your throat as a kid? – but when it comes to our busy family and work lives, a multivitamin can become a way to support our daily health goals. For example, according to a recent survey, did you know that almost one third (31%) of Canadians, find it hard to find time in the day for a workout or to cook healthy meals? Another finding from the same survey found that 43% of Canadians fall out of step with healthy habits during the holidays and 40% reckon that any healthy habits they inculcate fall by the wayside during vacations. This is particularly true during school vacations for my own family, as mealtimes turn erratic and the day is filled with snacks and not a regular meal.
Summer is a special time for us in the house, as my mom comes over to visit us in Canada. Mom, despite being retired, is a force of nature when it comes to getting us all ship-shape and organised. Before I know it, my laundry has been folded, my house is top visiting shape, and all meals are planned with my vegetarian husband and daughter in mind. Mom, like I mentioned above, is a big believer in healthy eating and big breakfasts, with the occasional cheat treat in between. Being used to a fixed sunrise, she gets a bit confused, as we joke, and wakes up every morning to make us a hot, Indian-style breakfast. Whether it is upma or savoury vermicelli, or her famous potato bhaji with either rotis, dosas, or even stuffed into bread rolls like vada pav, we enjoy her visits and the mama-style breakfasts she makes for us every morning.
As a food writer, especially when mama isn't around, my eating schedule can be pretty erratic. Sometimes I have breakfast for dinner, because I am trying to catch the last of the evening light to take pictures, or if I am testing recipes, I pretty much eat the same dish a few times in a row.
While I definitely try and make sure the family has a balanced meal, my diet doesn't always align their way. Taking multivitamins has thus become a bit of a necessity to keep me going and healthy and in good condition to keep writing about food now and in the future. It's the small steps that keep us going, after all.
Mom's Famous Potato Bhaji
This bhaji is an all-time favourite in the house. A spicy concoction of potatoes, onions, tomatoes and gentle spices. It can be eaten not just with a dosa, but also with chapatis/ rotis, puris, stuffed into bread or with plain rice and yogurt.It can very easily be made in advance, and reheated in the morning, making for a quick and easy breakfast to go.
2 tablespoons oil
1 sprig of curry leaves, about 4 - 5 leaves
1/2 teaspoon of black or brown mustard seeds
1 onion, diced
1 tomato, diced
1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
1 green bird's eye chili pepper, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 large potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and diced
Hot water, just enough to cover the potatoes
Salt to taste
In a deep pan, heat the oil, then toss in the mustard seeds and curry leaves until the seeds splutter (about 10 - 20 seconds).
Add the onion, and sauté for 4 minutes or until it softens, then the ginger and chilly, and fry for another minute.
Add the tomato and the turmeric, and cook until the tomato is soft, about 5 -6 minutes.
Stir in the potatoes, and toss them in the pan to coat them with the masala.
Add enough water to the pan to just cover the potatoes, and simmer until the potatoes are soft. Season with the salt.
Roughly mash the potatoes, leaving chunks intact. Stir together and check seasoning, adjusting if necessary.
Serve with dosas, chutney, rice, chapathi, or just as a side dish.
Disclosure: I was compensated by Centrum Multivitamins for this post. As usual, all opinions, writing and the recipe are my own. For more information on why multivitamins matter, please check out 'Why Multivitamins Matter'.