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The Case for Fussy Breakfasts

How to game breakfast into a luxurious solo pursuit

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A soft-boiled egg sitting in an egg cup with its top shell open. Natalia Van Doninck/Shutterstock

If breakfast has suffered the most indignities in the name of convenience, it’s because it’s so naturally fussy at heart. The permutations of sweet, fatty, juicy, and crisp are only achieved through a cadre of dedicated appliances, dishes, and devices that make mornings important: the toaster, waffle iron, citrus reamer, omelet pan, French press, tea infuser, milk frother, cold-press juicer, high-speed blender, silicone spatula, double-boiler, and fluted tart pan, to name a few. Even the humble butter knife. What other meal has the range? Breakfast is so uncontainably intricate it has a sequel (brunch).

The idea of what made up a “balanced” breakfast often felt so out of reach on the daily that just a couple months ago, Starbucks egg bites or rubbery pre-peeled hard-boiled eggs comprised a responsible start to the day. But now, pandemic mornings have been made idle by stay-at-home orders — meaning it’s a prime time to give breakfast the royal treatment it deserves.

I’ve found that by deploying a set of very specific tools (no kitchen appliances here, necessarily) I’ve gamed breakfast into a perfect, leisurely solo pursuit. Not only is the routine one that’s worth repeating every day, but achieving something akin to perfection is a ritual that temporarily solves the problem of feeling too overwhelmed to do anything — even eat — after catching up on the day’s headlines.

The first step: coffee. Third-wave coffee culture normalized using gear like the Chemex, scales, and thermometers for extracting the best from your specialty beans, but brewing coffee by the cup is really where it’s at. I keep my setup in my bedroom: a kettle, Brita pitcher, Kalita Wave, burr grinder, and scale. In the morning, I measure 21 grams of beans, exactly enough to fill my favorite mug to the top, to brew manually with a trickle of 357 grams (a ratio of 1:17) of 195- to 205-degree water for no more than three minutes.

The quality of brewing coffee one cup at a time, explicitly for immediate consumption, really does show compared to leftover java from an earlier batch, especially when it comes to showcasing the light, single-origin roasts in my monthly Sweet Bloom subscription. More importantly, thanks to my precision, it is perfect every time, letting me check off an accomplishment before reality has the chance to ask me for something harder. One cup of motivation, hot and fresh.

Perfection doesn’t always come in the form of a ratio or recipe. Grapefruit is one of the great breakfast delicacies, balancing brisk bitterness with energizing tang. Lacking the peel-and-eat factor of more portable citrus, a grapefruit’s place is at the table, split into exposed hemispheres, each garnished with a Luxardo cherry nipple.

As with the oyster shucker, cherry pitter, and nutcracker, sometimes there is simply the right tool for a tough job. The most common one, in this case, is the grapefruit spoon, iconically serrated at one end to dislodge wedges of fruit from each half, and I myself was a fan before I discovered the ultimate grapefruit tool, an undeniable unitasker invaluable to anyone who wants to treat their breakfast like a game of Operation.

The grapefruit knife is a sinister double-sided tool that lets you attack citrus like a freak. If grapefruits had any rights at all, this utensil would be outlawed. Two parallel blades on one end simultaneously slice the meat on either side of the tough radiating membrane with gentle, exquisite stabs. A curved blade on the other end of the tool lets you scalp the meat from the pith so that the only thing left to do is scoop up each dislodged, concentric gem, one by one. When all the fruit is gone, knock back the puddle of accumulated juices with the vigor of a Friday night. It’s hard not to appreciate the luxury of a perfectly prepared grapefruit — even if you have to do the work yourself.

The most ridiculous apparatus in my new fancy breakfast arsenal is an egg topper, a rod with a weighted steel ball that cracks a perfect opening to eat a soft boiled egg with strips of toast or a tiny spoon. You probably think this is the most decadent way to eat an egg, perched on its requisite egg cup, or the most absurd. Regardless of your feelings, this is the indisputable best treatment if you love soft eggs but hate peeling them. Here’s the recipe: Carefully lower two eggs into simmering water and set a timer for five minutes, making your toast while they cook. When the alarm sounds, use a strainer to rinse the eggs under cold water for 20 seconds before placing them on their pedestals. Break open the tops immediately and dig in.

With the novelty of a Cadbury Creme egg, this method is silly, even pointless, compared to all of the much easier ways to eat eggs, but therein lies the fun. With a demitasse spoon in one hand and buttered toast in the other, it’s impossible to scroll your phone, honing your focus on the careful, carnal action of scraping every bit of tender custard and rich yolk from the shell without breaking it. And while an egg cup is the appropriate prop for this task, ripping the cups off a paper egg carton works just as well if pocillovy isn’t your thing.

Fuss makes every bite exciting in a way that my early pandemic strategy of seeking comfort in from-scratch versions of all my favorite restaurant dinners could not. I got to observe this principle in action with my recently adopted dog who, despite being a high-energy mix, has too much anxiety to freely run around outside. One solution for cooped-up dogs is to make them “work” for their food with puzzles and toys that dole out kibble by the bit, keeping them busy by prolonging the mealtime and basically forcing them to enjoy it.

As Buffer longs for traffic-free pastures, so do I for the social life I once knew. In the meantime, I’ll continue to linger over hard-won spoonfuls of egg, citrus supreme, and the freshest coffee possible, a like-minded way to “work” for my breakfast that doesn’t feel like work at all.

Tammie Teclemariam is a food and drinks writer who has worked in the wine and spirits industry since 2011.