As a child, my parents insisted that I sit at the table (rightfully so) and eat whatever was placed in front of me, no questions asked, and I wasn’t allowed to leave the table before anyone else nor leave even a single grain of rice on my plate. Sound familiar to any of you? Both my parents experienced hunger and homelessness during the war, the family being torn apart, and living with the uncertainty when they would see each other again.
For the most part, eating my breakfast was not that much of a problem unless it was oatmeal. For some reason I always had issues with a bowl of oatmeal and grew to dislike it so much that I would gag at each spoonful. There were several occasions in which I spent hours at the dining table with a single bowl of porridge simply because I couldn’t swallow it all. Throwing the food was not an option, and neither was walking away, so I sat, and sat, and sat. It took me forever, but eventually I got through it all, just in time for lunch! To this day, you will not find porridge in my home, and I will never serve or offer it to houseguests either. I am reaching an age where I need a daily dose of fibre for a proper digestion, but I prefer to gobble down other grains or certain fruits that battle my way through another bowl of porridge.
Nevertheless, breakfast became an essential part of my day, not just for the food, but because my family was all about routine togetherness, saying prayers before and after meals, having basically the same food on the table Monday to Friday, and asking whether homework was done, lunch was packed and the uniform was clean. It was only 30 years later that I truly came to appreciate this fixed repetitive ceremony, but that is jumping ahead of the story. During my teenage years I preferred to sleep a little longer, eat less before running out to catch the school bus, talk to nobody in the process, and then have a snack sometime mid-morning. Breakfast became less of a jumpstart factor – until I married into a German family. Oh boy, and I thought my family was religious about breakfast! Geez, Germans take breakfast to a whole different level – and I absolutely loved it! As long as nobody presented me with porridge I was perfectly happy to indulge in it again. It was during these early years of my marriage that I re-discovered the joys of having a full, slow, and lively breakfast with all the bells and whistles, especially during weekends – my ultimate joy being an abundant, aromatic Filipino breakfast complete with rice cakes, fried fish, sausages, and fresh fruits.
Then came the divorce and I had to reconfigure the concept of eating meals by myself, and learning to endure the silence at the dinner table. Cats are no great company for breakfast, at least mine aren’t. I quickly slipped into the mode of breaking my nightly fast with a large mug of coffee and perhaps a bread roll. Loneliness, grief, and the sense of loss are not ideal spreads, do not go well with butter, and make the coffee taste even bitter.
Little by little over the past three years I have come to terms with eating a full breakfast again, to the point where I finally found a routine that I could live with and even enjoy the morning silences. The three C’s – Candles, cats, and coffee made all the difference, and usher in the zen mode before facing the outside chaos. Unless of course, one of my cats waddles too close to the candle and sets herself on fire, which has happened at least four times in the past two years!