Menu: Breakfast Strata with Spinach and Gruyere, Lemon-Glazed Blueberry Muffins, Local Sausages
Local ingredients: spinach, half-and-half, eggs, sausages
Throughout my pregnancy I harbored all the typical worries, but one that loomed particularly large was not fitting in with other mothers. It felt like gaining admission to a secret society, one in which you held a lifetime membership, and frankly it scared me a little. From the outside looking in my impression was that people with babies spent all of their time with other people with babies, and I didn’t understand why. Since no one in my immediate social circle had children I was confident that I would be left out in the cold, leaving me to choose new friends from a pool of women with whom I had nothing in common. Except for, well, a baby, but that somehow seemed secondary. I was surprised, however, to find a group of like-minded women early on, and I quickly came to understand why people with babies attract other people with babies into their sphere: there are few other people who will not bat an eye when you suggest eating dinner at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.
While circumstance initially brought my friend, Erin, and I into each other’s orbits – her son, Kolya, was born just three weeks before Abra – we quickly formed ties that transcended sleep problems and temperamentally “challenging” babies. I hadn’t known her very long when she suggested I come over to her house for dinner while Maikael was out of town on business. Although I was eager for the company Abra was still falling asleep at 6 pm and transforming into a screaming banshee much past that hour, which made dinner out next to impossible. “We’ll eat early,” Erin reassured me, and so it came to pass that nine-month-old Abra devoured an entire filet of salmon while the sun still blazed outside. But her mood remained bright until it was time to go home; thus became our custom of dining at unusual times to accommodate unusual schedules.
Over the past year Erin and her husband, Brian, have graciously hosted us to many delicious meals, not one of which has occurred at a typical hour. When Erin calls to make plans she always asks, “The usual time?” and I laugh because there’s nothing usual about it. I’ve eaten spicy Thai and barbecue chicken at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Sometimes we’re not sure if we’re eating a late lunch or an early dinner, but this funny ritual we’ve created is endearing, and while our children now have more regular schedules I wouldn’t dream of it being any other way. I wanted to repay the many kindnesses they’ve shown us over the past year, so, in the spirit of our “linners,” I thought it was only fitting to swap our regular family dinner for brunch.
I’m not sure why I’ve never thought about hosting company at 9 am before. The children are fresh, which means the adults are fresh, too. We were able to enjoy plenty of sparkling conversation and swap stories while the children happily munched on their food for more than three minutes. For the centerpiece of our menu I chose strata, a custardy, egg-based casserole that I will forever associate with Erin. I don’t think I’d ever eaten strata before I met her, but I would venture to call it her signature dish. If you’ve never tried it imagine a less-fussy quiche, bound by bread rather than a labor-intensive crust. The best part is that it can – and should – be prepared the night before in order for the flavors to fully develop. I rounded out the plate with local sausages which can be cooked, spitting and jumping in a cast-iron skillet, at the last minute, while the strata rests after coming out of the oven. Blueberry muffins, which I fondly refer to as “breakfast dessert,” were an obvious hit with the under-two crowd. Admittedly, blueberries are not in season (and as a Michigan native I imagine Erin enjoys better berries at home), but I happen to know Erin loves blueberry muffins, so I made a concession. If you have young children at home, the bulk of this meal can be prepared after they go to sleep, while still allowing you enough time to enjoy an episode of Deadwood on Netflix before bedtime.
Just as Erin helped me to see that dinner need not happen after 5pm, the brunch was a reminder that family meals need not happen exclusively at dinnertime. Choose a time of day that works best for your family and lifestyle, when food can be enjoyed as it was always meant to: in the pleasant company of others. Perhaps we’ll trade in our linners for brunch?