Breakfast in Bed
by Jesse Ziff Cool

1997. 118 pages, 90 recipes

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"There is something grounding about having a bowl full of flavorful food (for breakfast) nestled in one hand, spoon poised in the other, awaiting to take the plunge."
-Jesse Ziff Cool


Herb-Lemon Popovers

-Pear Spice Cake with Gorgonzola-Cream Cheese Icing

-Fig and Goat Cheese Pudding

-Tomato, Avocado, and Basil Omelette over Grilled Bread

-Baguette with Cambozola Brie, Chives and Strawberries

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The last time I had breakfast in bed was sixteen years ago in the maternity ward of Evanston Hospital. The concept of breakfast in bed doesn't appeal to me- not even in the romantic boudoir setting pictured on the cover of Breakfast in Bed by Jesse Ziff Cool. In fact, breakfast is my least favorite meal of the day. (Just give me ten minutes of solitude and a bowl of oatmeal, thanks.) So why did I even bother to pick up this book in the first place? Simply because I had met the author once briefly at some Food Thing; I liked her enthusiasm, her warmth and her unstuffy attitude to food (she loves it but doesn't worship it). I thought she'd probably write a interesting cookbook, and she did.

As you might guess, a book with the title Breakfast in Bed does not dwell on the clinically proven, salutary effects of breakfast on blood- sugar levels and mental acuity. Cool considers breakfast an expression of love, whether it's a matter of "serving my sweetheart breakfast in bed....creating a special day out of one that would otherwise be like any other..." or giving her sons "the physical and emotional nourishment...they can carry with them the rest of the day". And not to leave out the benefits of self-nurturing, she writes, "The very best way to take care of myself is to eat in bed."

Cool's recipes are appealing even to a grumpy breakfast eater like me. Because many of them defy breakfast-food stereotypes, they are easily adaptable to non-breakfast settings. When I had my book group over, Cool's Baguette with Cambozola Brie, Chives and Strawberries was the most popular item on the grazing table. I made the Herb-Lemon Popovers as dessert "shortcakes" (I simply omitted the recipe's pepper and herbs) served with ice cream. The Fig and Goat Cheese Pudding made for a delicious, if unconventional, dinner. (I deleted the recipe's vanilla and sugar). For lunch one day I made myself the Peaches in Basil and Balsamic Vinegar with Baguette and Chive-Geranium Cream Cheese (the title basically is the recipe), but there were just too many flavors going on (maybe I should have seen that one coming). In this particular case, Cool would have been better off following the less-is-more credo as Viana La Place does with a pristine peach-and-baguette sandwich in Unplugged (see Cravings cookbook archive for Unplugged review).

While I appreciate that Cool doesn't fuss about fat grams and cholesterol counts, I nevertheless quail at the amount of butter and the number of eggs in some of her recipes. I have, on occasion, cut back slightly on the egg count without wrecking the integrity of a dish.

Cool is a romantic with a pragmatic bent. She understands that the allure of making a special breakfast suffers if you have to get up even earlier than usual to spend a bunch of time in the kitchen getting it ready. (No one wants to be served breakfast in bed if the server is frazzled and resentful.) At the end of each recipe she notes what steps can be done ahead of time and what can be left until the morning.

This is a personal book and many of the recipes are culinary snapshots from Cool's life. There's the fish-and-eggs dish based on the one her dad used to fry up with his catch of the day on family vacations. The German Pancake recipe came from her son's grade school cooking class. Some dishes date back to Cool's long-gone, lovingly tended little eatery which was fueled by the spirit of sixties idealism. "We had a deep commitment to real food, free of artificial anything, touched by people rather than machines." She maintains that her current restaurant, The Flea Street Cafe, is run on the same principles. (One of the aspects I enjoyed about the book was the snippets of her eventful life tucked unobtrusively, tantalizingly throughout. A true daughter of the '60's, she came to California as a very young single mother in a VW van and waitressed at a health-food restaurant called The Good Earth.)

Much as I've enjoyed Breakfast in Bed, I admit I haven't converted to the concept. I'm still eating oatmeal in the kitchen. But I am seriously thinking about getting really nice percale sheets with a very high thread count.