Real Cooking

A long time ago, I heard comedian Bill Cosby tell the story of how, on a day when his wife was ill, he got his five children up and out of bed and ready for school all by himself.

His recounting of that morning was hilarious, and anyone who is a parent can relate to his trials of keeping a tribe of five children moving through the daily tasks of getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth and combing hair. And still getting out of the front door in time to meet the school bus.

The Cos’s old stand-up routine came to mind one morning this last week as I came into the kitchen to find my son staring at the chocolate cake I had made for the prior evening’s dessert.

“Would you like chocolate cake for breakfast?” I asked.

“You would actually let me have chocolate cake for breakfast?” came his incredulous reply.

“Yes. Today I would.”

As he cut himself a generous slice, I told him how Bill Cosby had let his children eat chocolate cake for breakfast because, he had rationalized, if one really broke down the ingredients of a chocolate cake, it came out to be a nutritionally balanced meal impeccably suited for breakfast.

After all, what is cake? Basically, Cosby had concluded, it’s eggs, milk and flour. Eggs would be a perfectly acceptable breakfast. And there wouldn’t be too many people who would argue that a glass of milk isn’t a wholesome part of a child’s diet.

As for flour? Well, bread is essentially a good thing-in fact it’s the staff of life-and it’s made from (let’s say it together, now) flour. And isn’t toast-which originates as bread-a component of many a healthy breakfast?

So why not have chocolate cake for breakfast since it’s virtually the same as having scrambled eggs and toast accompanied by a glass of milk?

“Are you really going to let him eat chocolate cake for breakfast?”

My daughter had now joined us in the kitchen and was sliding into her place at the table.

“It’s the same as eating scrambled eggs,” my son answered through a mouthful of chocolate.

“I don’t think so,” she tut-tutted as she reached for a bagel.

“Don’t be such a stick in the mud,” I said. “For some odd reason, I think it might be a really good idea to have a piece of chocolate cake for breakfast every now and then.”

“Me, too,” said my son, pressing the last crumbs onto his finger for one final bite.

I knew Alex would favor that suggestion. He’s my kid who won’t eat “normal” breakfast foods. Even if I’m making french toast or omelets, things that my breakfast-loving daughter devours with relish, Alex will be rummaging around the refrigerator looking for leftovers from the night before.

He’s far more likely to have a taco or a scoop of yesterday’s casserole for breakfast than a bowl of cereal or a toasted bagel.

Unless he’s having breakfast at Main Street Cafe in Durham. When we breakfast there he always has an order of hash browns and a pancake.

Now, you must know that Alex won’t eat a pancake at home to save his life, but he loves the cafe’s homemade syrup so much that he’ll eat the pancake just to savor the “sweet sauce” he generously pours over it.

And I don’t blame him. The stuff is liquid gold. Just writing about it makes my mouth water.

But enough about that.

Now that we’re back in school, breakfast has once again become an important part of our morning routine and not the catch-can arrangement that our summer schedule dictates. I can’t stand the thought of sending my kids off for a day of learning without something in their stomachs.

Even if it is yesterday’s spaghetti with meat sauce.

And now, according to a study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, science backs my feelings on this subject. Studies have found that children who eat breakfast not only do better academically than those who don’t (breakfast-eaters often average a grade higher), but they also exhibit better behavior.

Researchers looking into this subject have also found that those students who ate breakfast did better in math, were less anxious and depressed, manifested less hyperactive behavior and were more likely to attend class and be on time.

The study seems to back up what teachers and school nurses have been saying for years. That when children come to school hungry they, and the others around them, suffer.

“Oftentimes you see it evidenced not just in morning illnesses and headaches, but in temper tantrums and disruptions in the classroom,” says Michele Tingling-Clemmon of the Food Research and Action Center. “It’s not just the kids who are falling asleep at their desk, but it’s the kids who are really stopping the learning process from going on altogether.”

Now, to my mind, those are pretty good incentives to make sure that my kids get breakfast every morning before they get to their classrooms. If they are more alert, more willing to participate in classroom activities and just more pleasant to be around, then I’m going to do my part to ensure that something gets into their stomachs before they climb onto the school bus.

Even if it’s a piece of cold pizza. Or roast beef with gravy. Or Chinese carry-out.

Or the occasional slice of chocolate cake. Because who’s to say that Wheaties cereal is the only “Breakfast of Champions”?

If you have a child in your care, make sure they get off to a good start every morning. Just a few bites of something, whether that be a piece of fruit or a piece of pizza, can make a big difference. And if you need help with providing breakfast for your child, please, oh please, get them to school a few minutes early so they can take advantage of your school’s breakfast program.

Breakfast. It’s just a win/win situation. Do it today.

* * *

Lethal Chocolate Cake

Sift following dry ingredients into a large bowl:

17/8 cups flour (or 2 cups cake flour)

2 cups sugar

1/4 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

Add the following and beat for 2 minutes:

1/4 cup shortening or butter

3/4 cup milk

2 tsp. vanilla

Add and beat for two more minutes:

3/4 cup milk

2 eggs

4 ounces of melted unsweetened chocolate (cooled)

Pour into two greased layer pans or one 9×13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes for layer pans, 40 minutes for 9×13 or until toothpick comes out clean. Frost as desired or sprinkle with powdered sugar.

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