The Christmas lights are going up. As I walked to breakfast this morning, head down against the bitter wind whipping towards me, I saw coverall-clad city park workers up in the trees outside the Beacon Theater, wrapping each branch tightly with strands of twinkly tea lights. Soon, they’ll turn them on. The city will take on a festive feeling, lit up at night against the inky black sky.
I’m so cold by the time I sit down, and I’ve only had to walk a block. The entire cafe is packed and every table is full. I wait a few minutes until a couple leaves, vacating a little two-top tucked against the high windows that look out from the second story over the street below. Wrapped cozily in a sweater, I get situated and order a hot water with lemon. I read my book while I wait for my eggs and toast.
A girl and a boy, in their early twenties I’d guess, sit next to me. They’re chatty and cheerful, holding hands and telling each other stories about their friends from a party the night before. He orders an omelet with a side of bacon and thick-cut brioche toast. He slathers each piece with strawberry jam and drinks black coffee. She orders scrambled eggs with multigrain toast and swoons after the first bite. He laughs and says, “that good?” She nods. He asks her what is the most unexpected food she’s ever tried and liked. He is so earnest, and interested, and focused on her. It makes my heart swell—it reminds me that our attention is one of the most romantic things we can bestow on another person.
She proceeds to explain that these very eggs are the answer to his question. Here’s why (and yes I was eavesdropping and no, you can’t help but do that at such a crowded restaurant and yes, I’m glad I did because I learned something!): Her eggs weren’t just regular scrambled eggs. They were scrambled with cream cheese, tomatoes, and bacon. Cream cheese, guys!
Apparently cream cheese makes scrambled eggs rich, soft, and custard-y. It makes sense; often, we add milk or cream to get smooth scrambled eggs. Cream cheese would have the same effect, but would also keep the eggs from overcooking, helping yield those small, delicate curds.
I’ll experiment and report back.
After my breakfast, I sat and sipped my cappuccino, savoring the warmth of the mug in my hands. The room buzzes with low-level conversation. It’s cheery and bright. A gray-haired man in the corner is eating a beautiful pizza—topped with thinly sliced butternut squash, dollops of ricotta, and sprigs of what appear to be fresh thyme—and sipping a glass of red wine. Two women behind me are sharing a toasted sesame bagel piled high with lox and cream cheese and a slab of sourdough toast hidden under mashed avocado and crispy pumpkin seeds.
I watch a mother with her baby, switching him from the crook of her arm to her lap as she digs into a pile of silver dollar pancakes. I watch the servers fly in and out of the swinging doors that lead to the back kitchen. I watch it all pass, everyone immersed in their days, the ebb and flow of life around me.
And isn’t that the thing to note? That while we’re focused (rightfully so) on our own little sphere around us, everything changes. If we’re frustrated, it will pass. Our breakfast today just lasts an hour, then we’re on to the next thing. If we’re happy, that comes and goes too. We just breathe through it all, experiencing each moment as it arrives, noticing how it feels, being in it, inhabiting it, and then other ones will lie ahead.
So I leave that scene and head home to another one, to bake a gorgeous loaf of cranberry oat quick bread. I concentrate on mixing: the pull of the spatula, the color of the spice-flecked batter, the scent of cinnamon. I pour it into a loaf pan, watching it fall in thick ribbons. I smooth the top and slide it into the oven.
It emerges later—golden on top and crunchy with a sugary cap of oats. I eat a slice warm with my fingers, tasting tart cranberries and the comforting undertone of spice.
And sometimes this is enough.
Cranberry Oat Bread
Makes one 9” x 5” loaf
2 1/2 cups (300g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/4 cups rolled oats, divided
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts (optional)
3 tablespoons raw sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9” x 5” loaf pan, or line it with parchment.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and 1 cup of the oats.
In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat together the granulated sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and milk until light and well-incorporated, about 5 minutes.
Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Fold in the cranberries and walnuts (if using).
Pour the batter into your prepared pan and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of oats and raw sugar over the top.
Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center of the loaves comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 15 minutes in the pan before turning out onto a rack to finish cooling. Or eat warm. YOU DO YOU.