Breakfast in Bread

October 16, 1991|By Linda Lowe Morris

IN A WORLD OF INSTANT THIS AND THAT, Leslie Land has a somewhat radical idea: serving warm, freshly home-baked breads for breakfast.

"I am one of those people that want two very large bowls of coffee with milk in it and a whole bunch of homemade toast," she says. "And because I love bread so much that just seems to me a real natural way to start the day and by extension it's a natural thing to share with other people."

And, she adds, "baking for breakfast smells wonderful."

So it's not surprising that when Ms. Land contemplates a company menu for breakfast -- as she does in her new book, "The Modern Country Cook" (Viking, hardcover, $25) -- she bypasses the bacon and eggs and advocates a spread of muffins and corn gems and rolls served with homemade butter, homemade jams and hot cocoa.

And her description in the book of what such a meal would be like is enough to convince even the staunchest supporter of Pop Tarts:

". . . the rich flavors of corn, wheat, and nut meats; the contrasting textures of muffins, rolls, and toast; the subtly different sweetnesses of honey and apples and peaches. Breakfasters browsing among these sensations can linger long over their steaming mugs, reaching for just one more sliver of toast, another bite of muffin, yet rise from the table both light and lighthearted, ready to greet the day."

Leslie Land is a food and garden writer who lives a life where home-baked bread would seem to fit. She spends the warmer months in a small farmhouse along the coastline of Maine, then for the winter, moves to another rustic retreat in upstate New York. In Maine, she cooks on a quirky old wood stove, converted sometime back in the '30s to use both gas and oil.

A former caterer who got her culinary start as one of the first chefs in the kitchen at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., Ms. Land now makes her living from writing. Her weekly syndicated column called "Good Food" appears in the Los Angeles Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer, and she frequently writes articles for Metropolitan Home, where she is a contributing garden editor. She is also the author of "Reading Between the Recipes."

In all of her writings, she evokes the nostalgia we all feel for home-cooked food, but it is, as she calls it, "home cooking plus direct access" -- produce fresh from the garden and the farm stand, wild mushrooms from the woods across the road, fresh lobsters from the local fishermen and mussels picked from the nearby shore at low tide.

Then she seasons her down-home ingredients with exotic spices and recipes from around the world.

Despite her own dedication to food, she is trying in her book to "make it easy for people for people to cook good things from scratch without taking a million years."

The purpose of her menu of breakfast breads, she continues, is less to give a formula that has to be followed than to give an idea that can be adapted.

"The idea is just to have a bread smorgasbord for breakfast," she says. "People might have a favorite bread of their own. Or you might go out and buy blueberry muffins for your local bakery."

She advocates planning ahead. "If I were serving a breakfast like this, the rolls and bread would be in the freezer and I would have made the jam long ago."

This might be a meal you plan to serve, she continues, "the day after you've spent a rainy Saturday baking five or six kinds of breads to fill the freezer.

"I do speak strongly for baking day. I think that's a fine old tradition that people would be well advised to revive because it tastes good and it smells good and it's a lot of fun. And you'd have your own little private store there in the freezer."

Another way to cut time spent in the morning is to do part of the work ahead of time. In her recipe for "night-before maple walnut muffins" she describes a technique for making "instant muffins" that calls for mixing most of the ingredients the night before.

The dry ingredients are sifted together in one bowl. The eggs and milk are mixed together in another bowl and refrigerated. And even the muffin pan is buttered and put in a cool place.

"You can use that basic method -- getting all the parts together the night before -- for any muffin where you mix up the dry ingredients and add the milk and egg and whomp them up quick," she says.

RTC When we're entertaining friends, she says, it's sometimes better to put aside our fanciest recipes in favor of something simple. "We get hung up on this idea that we've got to lay out something really special and spend a lot of money on ingredients and you really don't.

"What you have to do is make whatever it is that you serve good of its kind. And bread for breakfast is a nice way to do it."

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