I like breakfast. Dashing off to work on an empty stomach? Not for me. My ideal day off? It starts with me at the breakfast table, preferably with a newspaper and the radio. Breakfast is good for body and soul.
Here in France, the classic breakfast involves fresh bread and something chocolatey, often drunk from an oversized cup or a bowl. Now that the modern business lifestyle has established itself in Paris, more often the French breakfast is a croissant gobbled hastily on the metro. And should any expats in Paris fancy some good old-fashioned toast, be warned that the sliced bread on sale here tastes rather sweet.
The quintessential Irish breakfast is no healthier, consisting mainly of fried parts of a pig. (Unhealthy for the eater, and not great for the pig either.) Like its Parisian counterpart, the Irish breakfast can now be eaten on the move – bacon and egg and sausage stuffed into a half-baguette and sold by deli counters in supermarkets as a breakfast roll.
Both these breakfasts appeal to me. When I lived in Ireland I spent many happy Sunday mornings in my local café with the papers and a cooked breakfast. Parisian weekend mornings saw me pop out for freshly-baked croissant, pain au chocolat and baguette.
But now I’m a committed runner and these things are all off the list, or to be taken in the greatest moderation as an exceptional treat. I’m sure many runners would agree that the hardest part of training is not the miles you do, but the nice things you do without. Me, I’ve had to re-think breakfast.
At the Chi Running workshop I attended recently, our coach Catherina McKiernan told us about a good breakfast for runners: porridge and peeled pears. The pears are to keep your system regular, and peeling them is easier for the digestion. The porridge is for energy.
Many of us were fed porridge as children, and it’s rare that any of us kept up the habit into adulthood. The most popular brand was Ready Brek, whose television commercial showed young inmates skipping off to school with an orange glow of warmth around them. But it couldn’t compete with the other TV breakfast commercials, where cartoon tigers and monkeys were hawking sugar-laden cereals that had free stuff in the boxes. Pretty soon we were skipping off to school while fuelled by a sugar rush.
On my coach’s advice I’ve started having porridge for breakfast. The first challenge was to actually find the damn stuff in Paris.
The local supermarkets have various oat products, but none of them had the word ‘porridge’ on the packet. (The French word for porridge is ‘porridge’, according to my dictionary.) So I headed across Paris to a shop on Boulevard Voltaire that sells Irish food and trinkets. Ignoring the whiskey-tasting session in progress, I found the required merchandise while wondering to myself if there would be a market in Paris for Irish breakfast rolls.
So far the new breakfast has been going a treat. Some hardcore porridge-heads may be aghast to hear that I make mine with water. I tried it with milk but I just didn’t like it. To give my porridge flavour, I use a squeezable bottle of honey to make a spiral much like that of cream on tomato soup. Then I mix it in and eat it while listening to the ‘Today’ programme on BBC Radio 4 on long-wave, not on computer.
(Peeling a pear is a surprisingly messy business, especially at incoherent o’clock in the morning. So I’m sticking with the tried and trusted banana.)
So that’s me, a fan of running and porridge, the two combining to give me a warm glow for the whole day.