Sunday, May 9, 2010
Breakfast Stew: An Homage
Every year, in the merry month of May, as the flowers burst into bloom, and the earth wallows in its own unbridled fecundity, thousands of medievalists (and some Early Modernists) flock like nesting swallows to beautiful Kalamazoo, Michigan. The terminus of this annual migration is the International Congress on Medieval Studies, a huge academic conference, with something like 3,000 attendees, and more than 300 sessions, scheduled over four days. World-famous professors, freshly minted PhDs, graduate students, and independent scholars alike share ideas, expertise, and cheap, screw-top wine in a unique admixture of intellectual bonhomie and practical necessity as they jockey for position at the various university press open bars. (Nothing levels the playing field like free booze.) In truth, it's a veritable orgy of intellectual stimulation, teeming - yea, even writhing - with fresh ideas, random encounters with the great and the good, friends old and new, exciting conversations, astonishing brilliance and utter silliness in equal measure, mead tastings, pub crawls, and, last but not least, the dance, which I'm afraid I can't discuss in this or any other forum. As the saying goes, "What happens at the Kalamazoo dance, stays at the Kalamazoo dance."
Each morning, after awakening in dormitory accommodations bearing more than a passing resemblance to those of a Carthusian monastery - a nice, if inadvertent, medieval touch, along with the short sheets, and the hairshirts interpreted as towels - the visiting pilgrim showers quickly in the chilly ambience of a shared bathroom whose fixtures are embossed with their year of installation (1964), and heads out to begin the day. For those up and dressed in good time before the day's first session, it's a short walk to Maggie's Campus Cafe, famous for big, greasy, affordable breakfasts; the place is usually full of conference-goers, and part of the fun is the incongruous mixture of visiting academics and bemused locals. Their signature dish is Maggie's Breakfast Stew, which is not only enormous but potentially lethal - if you don't believe me, check out the menu description: "A succulent blend of hash browns, bacon, ham, egg and cheese...the perfect hangover medicine! You can have a half order, but why? The full is twice as big and only 65 cents more!"
My partner and I love the yearly trip to K'zoo, and have been attending together since 2005; one of the nice things is that his birthday often falls during the trip, which means we can celebrate it with people whom we don't get to see very often. This year, however, due to a combination of work, overscheduling, family obligations, and general end-of-semester burnout, we've decided to stay home and give it a miss. On the whole, we're happy with this decision (due in no small part to the relief of not having to produce a conference paper in addition to everything else!), but when his birthday dawned, and we were not rushing to the airport, I was seized with the urge to cook up a big, greasy, good-for-what-ails-you, morning-after-the-infamous-dance, trashy-diner-tastic pile o' food. This is what I came up with, and I must say that it really hit that "starchy breakfast" sweet spot. Next time I might throw in some tofu, mashed with turmeric and nutritional yeast, for the "egg," so go ahead and try it if the idea appeals. Then again, it's pretty damn good just the way it is; next time I'm in Kalamazoo, I might even suggest it to Maggie!
~ 2 tbsp. canola oil
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 1 bell pepper, diced
~ 1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, paprika, parsley
~ 1/2 tsp. each: thyme, marjoram
~ A few generous grinds of black pepper
~ 1-2 tsp. hot sauce
~ 1 cup veggie crumbles, or 2 veggie burgers, mashed
~ 4 medium potatoes, baked, cooled, and cut into chunks
~ 1 8 oz. package tempeh bacon, cooked
~ In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil and saute onions over medium-high heat, about 3 minutes.
~ Add the bell pepper, mushrooms and seasonings, and cook another 5-7 minutes, until the mushrooms are giving up their liquid.
~ Add the veggie crumbles and potatoes, and combine thoroughly. Spread the mixture evenly across the pan, and continue cooking for about 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes so that the crispy bits get redistributed (think hash!).
~ Crumble in the cooked tempeh and combine thoroughly.
~ Now make...
~ 1 tbsp. Earth Balance
~ 1 large shallot, minced
~ 1 tbsp. flour
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, sage, dry mustard, paprika, garlic powder
~ 1 tbsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
~ 1.5-2 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1/2 cup grated blue flavor Sheese (optional, but great if you can get it!)
~ 1 cup cheddar flavor Daiya, or vegan cheese of your choice
~In a saucepan, melt the Earth Balance and saute the shallot over medium-low heat, about 3-4 minutes.
~Stir in the flour and dry seasonings to make a roux. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, another minute or so.
~Whisk in the Worcestershire sauce and 1/2 cup of the milk; keep stirring!
~When the mixture is smooth, turn heat to low and gradually add the cheeses and the remaining milk, stirring until you get a smooth, uniform texture and the thickness you like; this should take between 5 and 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
~ To serve, just put a big ol' pile of the stew on your plate, and ladle the cheesy sauce on top. Be sure to have toast on the side to soak up any excess, and some extra hot sauce in case you want to make things spicier. (Maggie's doesn't have a liquor license - quel dommage - but a bloody Mary would be the perfect thing to wash this down!)