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Volume 38 Issue 13, July 24 - 30, 2008
now in our 38th season

Breakfast of Champions

by Maryjane Mojer
Executive Chef, Bartlett's Ocean View Farm
 

I grew up on Pleasant Street in the white house (though it was, for a brief time in the 70s “Sand,” which actually looked pink to me) with the big bay window,  right next door to Frank T. Rebimbas’ Variety Store. Frank came to Nantucket from Portugal via Wellesley Mass, where he worked as a mason and built the big, beautiful brick church right in the center of town. His specialty was kale soup, which he kept on the brown heater that was only in place from November to April. He called me Maria instead of Maryjane  in his thick Portuguese accent, and I sure didn’t mind. My mom collected blue glass, which I still have, and she displayed it on the window sills in the bay window. She always washed her curtains with bluing, making the white curtains brighter and the blue glass seemingly bluer. The perfect backdrop for her collection.

Our neighbors back then were my Nana Perry, who was a nurse at the hospital and a very good one at that. Across the street lived George Johnson and a thousand (or so I was convinced) cats. That many cats meant a constant array of kittens who always found their way to our house. The Haynes and the Killen kids, most of whom I see either in the grocery store or football games, were two doors down and across the street respectively. Wendell Howes, the chief of police, and his wife Maxine were across from the Haynes, along with their daughters, Margo, Wendy, and Little Maxine. Next to them, Ethel and Honky Garnett with Karen and Georgia. I will never forget the pink, metallic Christmas tree that Ethel had one year. First artificial tree I had ever seen and wow…what an impression it left.

We had two green houses in the neighborhood; the Olivers had one and the Vieras had the other. Every year we would buy striped purple and white petunias from one and red impatiens from the other, but I can’t quite remember which from whom.

We always had a vegetable garden in those days. Dad fished quite a bit, and I was his sidekick when Mom worked nights. The bluefish and striper carcasses each went under a hill of soil in which the corn would get planted. I don’t recall adding any other fertilizer those years. I guess that a rotting fish carcass is about as time-released as you can get. Corn, tomatoes, and zucchini seemed to be part of every meal; sometimes all together and sometimes as bits and pieces of a larger meal.

Mom worked nights at the Knotty Pines with John Kimmet. She waitresses six nights a week and loved it so much that I couldn’t wait to be old enough to waitress, too. I loved it just as much. Jack Cassano and Bob Mattae tended bar and Ralph Romkey was one of the many piano players who sat at that huge, piano-shaped piano bar. I seem to recall a big brandy snifter in the middle of the bar for special requests, but I don’t know if that’s an actual memory or a thought. If memory does serve, it took very little encouragement to get John (Or JPK as my mom always called him) to sing Oh, Danny Boy. I do remember John’s wife Bess sitting at the bar and watching John sing. Caesar Richie, was the chef. On occasion I was lucky enough to sit on a stool in the corner of the kitchen and just watch him work. I certainly didn’t realize at the time the influence he would have

Two or three times a summer, Mom would have everyone over after closing for breakfast. I never thought of this as, nor did I ever hear it called, an after-hours party. It was just breakfast. Mom would usually work until one a.m. or so, and would arrive home about a half an hour before the first guests arrive. She would have done all of the set up, the plates, glasses, crackers and chips before she left for work. We had a huge old gas Westinghouse stove, 48” across with two ovens. She always had fried dough, sausage, bacon, and omelets and, because it was an eat-in kitchen, was quite happy to spend the night at the stove, smack in the middle of her guests and all the action. Each person would be stationed at a particular part of the kitchen. Whomever had the seat next to the fridge knew he (or she) was in charge of the beer. Over by the sewing chest was the wine and mixed drinks. Yes, it was breakfast, but, truly the breakfast of champions...the late-night restaurant shift.

Mom’s fried dough became part of just about every sleepover my kids had while growing up. It was served sweet, with powdered sugar and a squeeze of lemon or maple syrup, or savory with marinara and grated parm. (Yes, the kind in the green can.) As she cooked it, she would place it in the warm (200 degrees) oven on brown paper bags until she had enough to dole it out to everyone.

We didn’t have a deep fryer, and I still use the old copper bottomed Revere Ware pan that she used. As mom did, I fill it about halfway full with Crisco, and bring it to about 350 degrees. We never had a thermometer, but when it fried a piece of white bread to a golden brown in less than a minute, it was ready.

Her dough was a basic white dough and not a sweet one. Her recipe is here. In a pinch, the frozen dough that you can buy in great, hard lumps in the grocery store, left on your counter overnight to thaw, makes a swell substitute. I like to fry this time of year, when the doors and windows are thrown open, but I really don’t mind too much in the winter, either.

Mom’s Fried Dough, Dough.

(We never did, to my recollection, make actual bread from this!)

6 to 7 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt

2 packages dried yeast

Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl, holding back one cup of flour.

 

Bring two-and-one-quarter cups of milk to just below a boil.  Remove from heat.  Add two tablespoons butter, stir till melted. Stir in 3 tablespoons sugar.

Make a well in the flour and pour liquid in.

Using a wooden spoon (though my hands work better, so use what you like), begin to incorporate the wet into the dry. This dough will be sticky, and once it’s all mixed together, add more flour if necessary. This does take some time and some elbow grease, and you are welcome to use your fancy mixer and a dough hook. But sometimes, every so often, make it by hand.

Place the dough in a buttered bowl and cover with a towel. Let rise in a warm place until double (or, as mom did, until you get home from the late shift.)

Punch it down and tear off golf ball size pieces. Pull each into a disk shape by hand, and carefully drop it into the hot fat, always away from you. Flip it over when it’s brown on one side, and cook until done. Always good with a cold glass of milk, not half bad with a Bloody Mary at 4 am.

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