Recently I received a note from a reader in New York City who asked if we could talk on the phone — he wanted some advice. Though I am retired from my post as the Answer Lady for Ladies Home Journal, I still like thinking about other people’s problems, so invited him to call while I was on a long drive through western Maryland.
My caller was a young lawyer-turned-game designer, a new dad, happily married, and the more we chatted, the more I wondered what his question could be. Was it a drug problem? Perhaps he wanted writing advice? When he finally, awkwardly, got to the point, it turned out to be the most basic problem of human existence.
The guy is lonely.
Even with the great wife and fun job, he is lonely because he’s never been that good at maintaining friendships and since the baby came, he feels even more isolated. It’s hard to make plans because everyone’s so busy, and doesn’t want to pay a sitter, and can’t stay out late, and sometimes when he invites people over, they don’t even come.
Hmmmm, I said. Are you giving them anything to eat or drink?
It turned out he was not.
After a bit more discussion, I suggested a solution, or at least the beginning of one: he and his wife should give a brunch.
According to Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, brunch is the worst meal to eat in a restaurant, because it is basically a way to for chefs to recycle leftovers from the preceding week’s menus at top dollar. With nebbish drinks and profit-intensive egg dishes and week-old hollandaise, it’s the meal where the B-team is at the stove and the owner makes out like a bandit. Similar points were made in a recent op-ed in the New York Times, “Brunch Is For Jerks.” Hundreds of people wrote in to agree and disagree.
Maybe in restaurants, brunch is for jerks — personally, I don’t think it’s so bad. But I’d much rather stay home and have people over, because as I explained to my lonely guy in NYC, brunch is a unique entertaining and socializing opportunity. Here’s why:
– Brunch is easy. A great bagel spread involves no cooking at all, and anything more is gravy. Or quiche.
– Brunch takes place at an all-ages, kid-friendly time of day: Sunday or sometimes Saturday, late morning into afternoon.
– There is no need to seat guests formally so you can have a longer, more diverse list than you usually might. Invite neighbors, colleagues, regular buddies, out-of-towners, people with and without kids, people who don’t know each other, people you met on OKCupid: it will work better than you think.
– It is fun to drink during the day and there is no healthier cocktail than a Bloody Mary.
– People who don’t drink won’t feel conspicuous having coffee and juice.
– Even if it goes on for quite a while, the party will end before your bedtime and you will still have the strength to clean up.
– Sundays can be tough, a kind of no-man’s-land between the weekend and the week, often with nothing on the books at all. For the apostate, for the single, for the football hater, brunch is a particular boon. For the football lover, you can turn on the TV.
Yes, but is brunch a cure for the existential pain of consciousness? I checked back with my NYC reader and it turned out that he and his wife had thrown a party per my instructions. His results were mixed. For one thing, all the people with babies and toddlers came at 10 and left at noon and none of them had a Bloody Mary. The non-kid people crawled out of bed and showed up just as the parent crowd was leaving, so the two groups did not cross-pollinate as hoped.
There were too many pies (it was a post-Thanksgiving potluck) but everyone loved the scrambled eggs with peppers, onions and cheese. On the plus side, my guy and his wife got to see a lot of people they hadn’t seen in a long time, particularly those with children with whom it had been so hard to make plans. And that was the point, right?
At my house, I confess, there is no problem ripping through several batches of Bloody Marys. I make my mix with celery salt and a little pickle or olive juice; the guitar player from my son’s band does a garlicky version that’s popular, too. We don’t get many babies here, though the next-door-neighbors bring their five-year-old and Liz has an eight-year-old. These younguns come with their own drug of choice, video games.
Some friends from where I used to live in Pennsylvania often make it down. These ladies are Scrabble players as is a certain Towson lawyer of my acquaintance; fortunately, Scrabble and brunch are profoundly compatible activities. Gossip is also a favorite party pastime. Since many of my usual guests see each other only at my house, there are many updates that must be shared. Of greatest interest are the love lives of the single people. Last time, my student Terri and her husband came with matchmaking leads. Nice.
On at least one occasion, brunch lasted until dinner time, when the guitar player and I drunkenly whipped out some kasha varnishkes. Band-aids were involved.
Bagel Brunch Menu
• Bagels. In Baltimore, I think Goldberg’s is the best. Not open Saturday, though — because, duh, they’re Jewish.
• Cream cheese (plain and flavored), butter
• Sliced tomatoes, Bermuda onions.
Optional: Pickles, capers, olives, radishes, cucumbers.
• Smoked salmon.
Optional: smoked trout, whitefish salad, plate of crispy bacon.
Platinum option: invite friend from New York and have her bring smoked fish from Acme or Russ and Daughters.
• Egg dish: A bowl of peeled hardboiled eggs goes over well; quiche is nice and can be made in advance. My new favorite is a delicious and cool-looking dish called shakshuka, an Israeli breakfast I was turned onto by local blogger The Baltimore Chop. A recipe adapted from the New York Times is below.
• Bloody Marys (lots of good recipes online), mimosas (orange or grapefruit), coffee and tea
• Cut-up fruit or fruit salad or just a bowl of berries
• Coffeecake, muffins, or some other breakfast pastry. (Buy, bake or have someone bring.)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 large red bell pepper, sliced
3-5 garlic cloves, put through a press
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
Tabasco or Sriracha to taste
1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes with juices, coarsely chopped
5 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1 1/4 cups)
6 large eggs – or more – I’ve fit 10 in a big skillet.
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Saute onion and pepper in olive oil; cook gently until very soft, about 20 minutes. Add garlic; stir in cumin, paprika and cayenne, and cook for a couple minutes. Pour in tomatoes and season with salt and pepper; simmer until thick — about 10 minutes. Stir in feta.
3. Gently crack eggs into skillet over tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until eggs are set, 7 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro, serve with hot sauce — in this pic, I drizzled it with Sriracha.