Vanessa Chang
(A Glutton with Brains)


a glutton with brains

Breakfast of Champions with a Friend


On the menu: Lemon-Ricotta pancakes * Tomato-Bacon Hash * Chicken-Apple Sausages * Fruit Salad

Nine a.m. Okay, maybe 10. We've established that I'm not a morning person. A groggy Sunday morning and the luxury of lingering in bed. It lasts as long as a rumble in the belly. Hunger sets in and comes the proverbial Sunday morning question: what to eat for brunch? It nags me once a week like clockwork. And it nags my friends, too. We're champion brunch-goers. We've been to pretty much every venue in town that offers scrambled eggs of various quality, stacks of pancakes gluey or perfect, and coffee weak as dishwater or thick as mud. Our options were close to up and the idea of waiting in a crowded front room and fighting for a bitchy waiters' attention wasn't as good as staying in bed. In fact, "staying in" sounded perfect.

But what would I eat? That would be up to me, the kitchen, and my friend, Amber.


Amber isn't so much a friend as she is a sister. She's a recent addition to my village of people; a social salve of a person, generous in spirit. We knew of each other but didn't meet until a day in August at some outdoor food festival where she and I were both working.

"You," I said pointing to her. "You're Amber." She looked at me a bit surprised. "I like you." I'm not sure what compelled me to get her attention so brusquely. Figured might as well get to the point. Luckily for me, she's a kind soul. Probably the kindest you'll ever meet. Another friend and I concluded that if you don't like Amber there's something wrong with you. Amber and I are family; two only children drawn together out of a love of food, eating out, and the odd trashy magazine. In restaurants or in one of our kitchens, we worship food and bitch about our odd upbringing.

"I don't really feel like going out," she said over the phone. I was still in bed but awake, agonizing about breaking the Saturday night fast and still groggy from another night of sleepless anxiety. What about? What not about is more like it. Worrying and lack of sleep make you surprisingly hungry. Her husband, my de facto brother-in-law, was out of town. She sounded a bit agitated and lonely. Out the window I could see the Spring chill of the day and the gray cast in the sky. "Come over," I said. "Let's cook."


She arrived an hour later with fruit salad components and a thermos of coffee. I didn't own a French press at the time—my caffeine was supplied by the java drive-thru. But I was glad to sip on the stuff from my own mugs and not a styro cup, chopping fruit, sizzling bacon with tomatoes, and keeping watch over fat links of somewhat healthy sausage.

Back in the day in a half-assed attempt to rid myself of anxiety, I would sit on the second story floor of an converted Victorian house with thirty other people trying to be quiet. Focusing. Listening to stories about Zen monks washing dishes to be one with the universe. On the thin black cushions, it never worked. But here in my kitchen in the company of a good friend, dicing tomatoes and stirring pancake batter, I had a handful of monk-like moments. (But never over dishes. I bloody hate doing dishes.) Caffeinated Zen.

When the enjoyable labor was over we had a feast the likes of which could've not been replicated at any restaurant. We took a moment to survey the table. "There's no menu like this," Amber said. "This is perfect." I felt like I had just cooked my first Thanksgiving meal. Her refreshing fruit salad to nibble between bites of bacon tomato hash. Juicy chicken apple sausage links to alternate with tender ricotta pancakes. And more of that wonderful coffee.

It wasn't brash. Wasn't showy. It was exactly what we wanted. Food for conversation. Conversation for food. And no pressure to leave the table for another batch of anxious brunch goers.

There are breakfasts for your kids. There are breakfasts for your lovers. And then there's a breakfast of brunch-champions with your dear friend/sister. So one week's answer to the proverbial Sunday question: Home.


Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes

The batter is very forgiving. You can whip it up all at once or prepare the step until the beaten egg whites and keep it covered in the fridge. Size depends on what you like, though I have a particular liking to the small silver dollar size like a chocolate chip cookie.

1 16-ounce container ricotta cheese (whole milk variety, please) * 8 ounces milk * 2 eggs, separated * zest of 1 lemon * 1 teaspoon vanilla extract * 3/4 cup all-purpose flour * 1 teaspoon baking powder

Combine the cheese, milk, egg yolks, zest, and vanilla. Mix well. Add in the flour and baking powder. Give it another stir. Then beat the egg whites until fluffy, but not stiff. Carefully stir these into the batter and dollop immediately onto a hot non-stick skillet. I use a bit of butter because I can. But you don't have to. Makes enough for 4 people.

Bacon Tomato Hash
I judge a breakfast my the presence of bacon and the quality of hot sauce. This meal doesn't require the latter, but since the bacon is definitely around, it never hurts. Juicy tomatoes scorched in hot bacon fat is ingenious—I really need to thank the British for that.

4 slices of thick cut bacon, cut into 1-inch lengths * 4 tomatoes, quartered * freshly ground black pepper * chopped fresh parsley

Cook the bacon in a sautepan over medium high heat until cooked. Remove bacon and leave to drain on a paper towel. In the bacon fat-filled pan, add the tomatoes and allow to sear on all sides. When just barely tender and about to burst with juice and fat, add the bacon back in as well as the black pepper. Throw in some parsley to make it somewhat healthy and enjoy immediately. Makes enough for 4 people or 2 women who happen to really love bacon with tomatoes.