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Alimentary, My Dear

From Hand to Mouth —
A Sandwich for Breakfast? Why Not!

By Tamia Nelson

September 18, 2007

When I was a kid, breakfast was a family affair, and the menu could best be described as Standard American. On weekday mornings, we all ate cold cereal (though we sometimes had oatmeal in winter), buttered toast, and orange juice (poured fresh out of the can), with perked coffee for the older kids and adults. Weekend breakfasts were more leisurely. We tackled platters of eggs, pancakes, bacon, and home-fries, never stopping to think where all the fat that we ate would end up, and what might happen someday as a result. Whatever the day of the week, however, sandwiches just weren't part of our breakfast.

But then things changed. I suppose the fast-food revolution had something to to do with it. The nearest McDonald's was more than thirty miles away, but some of our more adventurous neighbors worked up the courage to order Egg McMuffins® on their infrequent trips to town, and they quickly acquired the taste. Still, most of them were farmers, and not too many farmers have time to drive thirty miles for breakfast, particularly during the busiest seasons of the year: planting and harvesting. So it wasn't long before they were asking for "an egg muffin thing like they have at McDonald's" at all the local diners. And as luck would have it, my parents had just opened a greasy spoon out on the state highway. Many of their regulars were farmers. You can guess what happened, I'm sure. Soon my parents also had a "breakfast egg sandwich" on their menu.


Is there a lesson here for paddlers? You bet there is! Busy people don't always have time for sit-down meals. They appreciate food that can be eaten out of hand. And mornings are often very busy times for canoeists and kayakers. What's the solution to this problem? Skip breakfast? Get real! Grab a sandwich, instead. First things first, though. Not all sandwiches are created equal. If you want yours to stand the test of time, you'd better build it on a solid foundation. And the foundation of any good sandwich is the bread. Luckily, there's a lot of choice. Here's just a sample, culled from the shelves of a nearby HyperMart:

  • Everyday sliced sandwich bread
  • Rye bread
  • Artisan breads
  • Cinnamon-raisin bread
  • Bagels
  • English muffins
  • Biscuits
  • Hard rolls
  • Brioche
  • Challah
  • Pita bread
  • Italian bread
  • French baguette
  • Focaccia
  • Flour or corn tortillas
  • Lavash (a Middle Eastern flatbread)
  • Corn bread
  • Irish soda bread
  • Banana bread

There's something here for everyone, I think. Choose whatever you like. But you're not done yet. Bread may be the foundation of a good sandwich, but you still have to raise the superstructure. So here are some possible building blocks to inspire your imagination:

  • Eggs, fresh or dried, or a cholesterol-free egg substitute
  • Cheese
  • Bacon
  • Sausage
  • Ham (or Spam®, with apologies to Monty Python)
  • Jelly, jam, or marmalade
  • Marmite® (You'll love it or hate it!)
  • Honey
  • Chutney
  • Maple syrup (or maple sugar)
  • Sugar, granulated or brown
  • Nut butter
  • Fruit, fresh or dried
  • Vegetables
  • Mushrooms
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Salsa
  • Herbs and spices, fresh or dried

Enough. Eggs head the list for good reason. They can be scrambled, made into an omelet, fried, boiled, or poached. Then add meat or vegetables — or both — to enhance and enrich the dish. Cooked meats are another perennial favorite, whether or not they're paired with eggs, and cheese is delicious with either. What kind of cheese? Whatever you fancy! Melt a slice on top of eggs or meat, or chop some into cooking eggs just before they're done. Sweets also go down well. Maple sugar or syrup is wonderful with bacon, ham, or sausage, while fruit spreads and preserves complement soft cheeses like cream cheese or Brie. Nut butters are must-have items for many paddlers, too, and they work well with either sweets or savories.

Whew! It's obvious from these two lists that sandwiches aren't just time-savers for early-morning getaways. In fact, you can easily spend the better part of an hour constructing some of the more elaborate creations. Or you can build your monumental edifice the evening before, and tuck it away in a cooler to await the coming of the dawn. If you do this in camp, however, you'd better hang your cooler. If you don't, you may find that your breakfast has instead become a midnight snack for some uninvited guest!


Overwhelmed by too many alternatives? Then let's simplify things a bit. Since sandwiches are obvious choices for folks in a hurry, we'll begin by looking at …

Fast Food

Quick to make and easy to eat on the go — those are our watchwords here. To build the simplest sandwiches you only have to slather a filling onto a slice of bread (or a flatbread like pita or lavash), top with another slice (or roll up the flatbread), and eat. What could be easier? Now we'll look at a few examples:

Bagel and…  Bagels are great paddling fare. They're perfect for hearty eaters, and they can be had in a great variety of flavors. Cream cheese and lox are traditional accompaniments, but that's just the start. Mix shredded carrots, chives, dried cherries, or cranberries into the cream cheese. Or spread cream cheese on one half of a bagel, and jam, jelly or — my personal favorite — orange marmalade on the other. Now press the two halves together and you've got breakfast. Nut butters are good on bagels, too, and if you like something sweet with your peanut butter, try a fruit preserve, some honey or maple syrup, or even sliced bananas. Ready-cooked bacon is a boon for campers. (Look for the kind that doesn't require refrigeration.) Put a few slices inside a halved bagel, add a hunk of cheese, and you've got a breakfast that will keep you going for hours.

Tortilla and…  Bagel fillings are fine with tortillas, as well, but don't stop there. Roll up some grated Monterey jack cheese and salsa inside a flour or corn tortilla. Or give cream cheese and sliced peaches a try, with salsa or chutney as a counterpoint. Wrap tortillas around smoked bacon, cooked Canadian bacon, or cooked ham, and then sprinkle with maple sugar or brown sugar. A hint: Any filling that works with tortillas will work with lavash, too.

The Bacon Butty  A British institution, the bacon butty — or bacon sarnie — is nothing more than a bacon sandwich: crispy hot bacon nestled between thick slices of buttered white bread, garnished with Worcestershire sauce (or any other steak sauce). For a quicker bacon butty, just butter some bread and layer ready-cooked bacon between the slices. Then add sauce (or not, as you wish).

Bread and Cream Cheese  This was one of my mother's sandwich staples, often enhanced with a fruit preserve for sweetness. Use cinnamon-raisin or Irish soda bread if you can, or (if cream cheese isn't to your taste) substitute peanut butter. Peanut butter and jelly — you can't get more basic than that, can you? And it makes a great breakfast for folks on the go.

Pancakes and…  OK. Making pancakes from scratch isn't a recipe for a quick meal, but leftover pancakes — now that's something else! When I was digging holes for a living, one of our archaeologists always made enough pancakes on Sunday so that he was certain to have plenty of leftovers. Next morning, he folded or rolled pancakes around bacon, breakfast sausages, peanut butter, slices of banana, cottage cheese, or anything else that caught his fancy. That was all there was to it. You can do the same thing. On lazy days when you're in the mood for pancakes, be sure to make some extra. Then, once your surplus has cooled, bag it and pack the bags in a rigid plastic container. Come the following dawn, build your breakfast sandwich using whatever spread or filling you like, folding or rolling the pancake for easy eating on the move.


Speaking of lazy mornings, let's not forget that breakfast sandwiches aren't just food for eating and running. Got a little more time on your hands? Then you can indulge in that rarest of 21st-century luxuries:

Slow Food

With a campfire crackling, a couple of hours to spare, and a well-stocked larder, you can follow your fancy wherever it leads you. Eggs are always a good starting point. Just capture cooked eggs between slices of bread or the halves of split rolls or bagels, or fold them into a tortilla or other flatbread. One of my favorites is the …

Western Egg Sandwich  Count on one egg (two for famished paddlers) and about three tablespoons of finely chopped vegetables per serving. I like to use minced garlic, chopped onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, and — if I have them — chopped zucchini and spinach (or parsley). Add salt and pepper to taste. Some people like to add bacon bits, too. Just be sure you stir the vegetables and bacon bits into the eggs before putting the pan on the fire. I prefer to cook individual servings one at a time because it's easier to flip the resulting "pancake," but bolder cooks may want to give batch processing a try. If you go the single-serving route, however, a six-inch skillet with sloping sides works fine, and many cooks — not me, though — use a non-stick pan. Melt a couple of teaspoons of butter (or some substitute) in the pan, and pour in the egg mix when the butter melts and begins to sizzle. Now cover and cook over medium-high flames for a couple of minutes. Next, lift the lid and shake the pan. If the eggs are almost set in the middle, carefully flip the egg pancake with a spatula, cover the pan again, and cook for a couple of minutes more. Don't overcook! As soon as the bottom of the egg mixture is lightly browned, remove from the heat and cut in half, then overlap the halves onto buttered, toasted bread. (I like rye bread best.) Add salsa or ketchup if you wish, or garnish with cooked mushrooms or Canadian bacon, then top your sandwich off with another slice of bread and dig in.

Bruschetta, Cheese, and Peaches  This open-faced sandwich is simply delicious. Slice bread thick and toast it on both sides in a hot pan with a little butter. Spread one side with cream cheese or ricotta, then drain sliced canned peaches (drink the juice!) and place them shingle-fashion onto the cheese. Sprinkle with brown sugar or chopped pistachio nuts and settle down for a real treat. For best results use a robust artisan loaf or thick slices of cinnamon-raisin bread.

Apple Sandwich  You'll need cooked apples or applesauce for this one, though canned apple pie filling also works — but only if the canned filling isn't too soupy. Toast thick slabs of cinnamon-raisin bread or English muffins in a hot skillet with melted butter. Then heap cooked apples on top of the toasted slices and sprinkle with a pinch each of nutmeg and cinnamon. Now garnish with grated cheddar cheese if you wish, and top with another slice of toasted bread. I bet you'll think you're eating a slice of apple pie!

Grilled PBJ  Beloved by kids of all ages. Make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then toast both sides in sizzling butter in a hot skillet and serve. Or if you're really into indulgence, dip your sandwich in a mixture of egg and a little milk (this is called an "egg wash" — think French toast here), before frying.

Toasted Chocolate Sandwich  Is there no limit to decadence? Maybe not, but this sandwich pushes the envelope. You'll need a few bars of chocolate and a substantial loaf of bread, one that will withstand being soaked in an egg wash. (Challah is a good choice.) Slice the bread into thick slabs. Then break the chocolate and place a single layer on the bread, being sure to cover each slice to the edge, but not beyond. Now top with the other slice of bread. Next, place your assembled sandwich in a bowl containing an egg wash — that's eggs whisked with a little milk, remember? — and moisten both sides of the sandwich with the egg mixture. Fry in hot butter in a covered skillet, turning the sandwich over carefully once the first side is browned. After the second side browns, remove from the fire, slice in half, and allow to cool before sprinkling with confectioner's sugar. (CAUTION! Don't be in hurry to eat. The chocolate will be very hot fresh from the pan.)

Breakfast on chocolate? Well, why not? There's more to life than increasing its pace, after all. The hermit of Walden Pond said that, and he was dead right. Enjoy!

The Earl of Sandwich is given credit for inventing the portable meal that now bears his name, and this may have been the only line of credit available to him. As the story goes, he was too busy losing money at the gaming tables to sit down to eat. Of course, paddlers have far better ways of spending their time than betting on a turn of a card, but we also know what it means to be busy. And morning is often the busiest time of any day we're on the water — or when we're on our way to the water, for that matter. This being the case, there's no reason why we shouldn't follow where the Earl led, is there? At least in the culinary line. So the next time you're running late and the river's calling, have a breakfast sandwich instead of a sit-down meal. I'm betting you'll be glad you did. In fact, I'll bet you'll want to give sandwich breakfasts a try even on lazy days. They're just too good not to. And that's alimentary.

Copyright 2007 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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