New Austerity Brunch

In the airport in Amsterdam I bought British Elle for the Courtney Love interview and then when I couldn’t sleep on the 7 hour flight I read the rest of the magazine several times. This gave me plenty of time to appreciate how painfully dumb it is that magazines, whose editorial content must mention the kind of products their ad pages sell, are even pretending to alter their coverage in light of the global financial crisis.   You know, like, “Now’s the time to focus on people rather than things.  But speaking of things, Chanel’s new lip gloss is amazing, and it’s an indulgence you can afford at only $25!” (Speaking of Chanel lip gloss: in the interview, Courtney confessed to stealing a Chanel lip gloss from Sofia Coppola’s “Sistine Chapel of a bedroom” at Sofia’s sixteenth birthday party and then, years later, after getting sober, leaving a Chanel lip gloss for Sofia at the reception desk of the Mercer hotel. Because Courtney believes in karma.  COURTNEYYYY. )

Anyway, magazines pretending to be recession-conscious is the new magazines pretending to be “green.”  Choire and I spent some time coming up with ‘New Austerity’ magazine tips like “Wear your clothes for more than one season” and “Anchor your new austere look with one piece of statement jewelry” and “Wear the maid’s sweaters.”   We came up with a lot more, too.  We had some time on our hands, due to, we don’t have jobs!  Just kidding, we are freelancers.  We also talked about how it’s annoying when people blame completely unrelated problems on the economy.  “My handmade candle business is really floundering in this economy!”  “My band’s Proust concept album just can’t make any headway in this economy!”   You know when you’re late to something and it’s snowing and you would obviously have been late anyway and you try to blame it on the snow? It’s like that.  No one is buying it.  The subway still runs fine in the snow.

All that being said: there is a recession going on, and until Barack Obama magically fixes it next Tuesday we will all have to scrimp a bit on lip gloss, and rent and bills and stuff.  One area where I believe that everyone can cut costs is Brunch.  This weekend, or this Monday if you have it off, you may be tempted to go have a midday meal in a restaurant, a meal that you’ll have to wait in line for.  By the time you’re seated you’ll be super hungry, so you’ll order a bunch of the delicious-sounding things on the menu, or maybe you’ll figure hey why not splash out on the prix-fixe option that comes with coffee and a watery mimosa! Much, much later, as you toy halfheartedly with a smear of congealed, suspiciously too-yellow hollandaise and stare out the window as the the sun begins to set, you’ll realize that you have just squandered four hours and probably at least $20.  And that’s fine, especially if you’re an adherent of a religion that believes this is just one of many lifetimes.  Personally I suspect that one is all we get, which is why I recommend you BRUNCH AT HOME.   Also because eggs are only good when they’re served like 10 seconds after they’re finished cooking.

Leek and Potato Hash (Inspired by a recipe in famous TV Chef Tom Colicchio’s book ‘Think Like A Chef’)


2 leeks

1/2 a package Applegate Farms Sunday Bacon (or similar)

6 or 7 or 8 fingerling potatoes, sliced superthinly, like potato chip thinly almost


salt and pepper

First, wash your leeks really super thoroughly, leeks have tons of dirt in them.  Ruth showed me an ingenious way of doing this where you slice the leeks crosswise twice, effectively quartering them almost to the end of the stem, then run them under cold water.  Previously I’d been slicing them horizontally into coins then rinsing the coins in a salad spinner, which takes twice as long but it does produce cute little leek coins.

(Speaking of leeks, I think the last time I described leek technique was in the recipe for Heartbreak Soup, which, please don’t read it if you’re currently my boyfriend or are related to me.  Thanks! If you’re not, though, and you’re actually interested in making this delicious chicken soup — and you should be, it’s dynamite, especially if you’re part of the 80% of the population that currently has a cold — you can improve this recipe immensely by refrigerating the chicken broth and then discarding the layer of solid yellow fat that rises to the top before adding back in the chicken and the optional noodles and vegetables and serving. You can also use way less olive oil than is called for in the original recipe.  And that’s what I’ve learned in the last 18 months!)

Get out your 12-inch skillet.  Get out your bacon.  Use scissors — if you own “kitchen shears” you get a medal for being a grown-up — to slice the bacon directly into the pan in fat little ribbons.  Cook the bacon just until the fat is rendered, not til it’s crispy.  Then dump in your leeks and fry them up in the bacon fat.  Yes indeed!

When your leeks have softened and the bacon is perfect, dump them into a bowl, wipe out the skillet, and melt … oh god.  Well.  Tom says three tablespoons of butter.   Follow your heart, I say.  Your figurative heart.  It’s probably better not to think about your literal heart at all while cooking or eating this meal. Arrange your adorable potato coins in approximately a single layer in the butter-filled skillet, cook them for five minutes or until nicely browned on one side, then season the top with salt and pepper (gentle with the salt, remember, there’s bacon in this — and if you’re using salted butter, hold off on the salt entirely.  But try not to use salted butter) and flip the potatoes over onto their other side.  Cook ‘em til they’re done — you’ll figure this out by tasting one.   Then reincorporate the leeks and bacon, stir it all up together, and let it sort of hang out over a low flame while you make some scrambled eggs.

Here are some scrambled egg myths I have heard: 1) You should cook them slowly over a low heat. 2) Men are better at cooking them than women.  Ok, that latter one possibly has some basis in fact, I think because a lot of dudes who can’t cook anything learn how to do eggs so they can be all, “Look at me, Mr. Eggs.”  That’s nice and all, dudes, but please also learn to cook some other things.  Every human being should be able to cook some satisfying, vaguely healthy meals.  There’s all this hoopla about cooking and I think sometimes it distracts people from the basic fact that cooking is just like singing or drawing: it’s something every person can do and can enjoy doing, and just because some people are Pablo Picasso or Amy Winehouse doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t figure out how to fry a pork chop.

Anyway, you’re making brunch for yourself and a friend, yes?  Great, you’ll need six eggs and some whole or lowfat milk. Beat the eggs with a splash of the milk and scramble them fast over a medium high heat with a little too much butter.  At the very last minute just as the eggs are about to be done you can snip one scallion with the same scissors you used on the bacon (but washed. Fancy!) into the eggs, stir, and serve alongside or atop a pile of hash.

Serve with: coffee, Bloody marys (tomato juice, horseradish, vodka, freshly ground black pepper, pepperoncini peppers over lots of ice),  Winter fruit salad (an apple and an orange cut up in a bowl).

Eat it all up, talk about your relationships, then get on with your day.  The only thing restaurant brunch has over this brunch is that at a restaurant someone else does the dishes.

Also if you have leftover hash you can put it in the fridge in a little baggy and then use it to enliven any kind of creamy (cauliflower, turnip, squash) soup.

Also, unrelated to this recipe, my favorite Susan Sontag diary entry so far is this one, from June ‘49 (SS was 16):

Shostakovich Piano Concerto

Scriabin Preludes

Franck D Minor Symphony

Prokofiev Symphony #5

[Bach's] Mass in B Minor

Sex with music! So intellectual!!” 

18 comments to New Austerity Brunch

  • This damned economy!

    I would take the chicken fat you scooped off the chicken soup and use it to fry up pieces of the skin you judiciously saved (a penny saved!) when you cut up the chicken. Fry them until they are a deep golden brown, then scoop them onto paper towels (that you made yourself from yard scrap) and toss them into salads, stir-fries, or just eat them by themselves and pretend you didn’t.

    Ordinarily I wouldn’t do this…I’d just dump the whole mess in the trash, but…gotta pinch the buffalo nowadays.

    It’s the economy!

  • Some chopped parsley and a little dash of nutmeg make scrambled eggs way more interesting.

  • My favorite New Austerity tip is: get great bargains by “shopping” in a lost-and-found bin near you! Although, I have been doing this since before the recession.

  • emily

    Yeah, that is more of a Perpetual Austerity tip. ‘FREE LUNCH at a homeless shelter near you” also

  • Hey wait! My band made a Proust-concept album (omg are there others!?), and I would never blame its utter commercial (and most likely, artistic/conceptual/technical) failure on the economy! (Which would be annoying.)

    But that aside, I just came back from Europe with an armload of airport/fashion magazines that I was planning to make merciless fun of, but for some reason I can never bring myself to open them now that they’re sitting in a pile on top of 2066.

  • burgeoned l-word

    at home brunch is my ultimate faveys

  • julia

    Totally agreed. I wrote an outraged letter to Marie Claire on this topic about 6 weeks ago. I am still angrily waiting for a response. Even my command to remove me from your subscription list this instant! went unheeded.

    Another delicious brunch alternative: bagels. But I know that is not a good set-up for your recipe. God, I love bagels.

  • emily

    @gay, ha yeah I know! I like your band’s proust concept album, I’m sorry i used the idea for humor purposes.

  • karion

    Emily, you win. I loved you, then you broke my heart a little, and then I discovered indifference. But you won me back without even trying.

    I was wrong, you were right.

    But you are wrong about the “myth” of slow cooking eggs. Softly scrambled eggs. They are so much better when you cook them over the lowest heat your stovetop has – we’re talking only ten minutes here, but it makes a world of difference. Also, I add herb cream or goat cheese in the last few minutes as well as chives, and a dash of hot sauce because I once lived in Texas.

  • or an alternative: throw all that stuff in a mixing bowl with a couple of eggs, gruyere, and some creme fraiche, then pour it all into a pate brisée (pre-made pastry dough) and stick it in the oven. voilà: quiche.

  • NotAndersonCooper

    Emily, I love this column! I would have written sooner but the cold weather screwed up my internet.

  • No apologies necessary! It happens so rarely, I’m pretty much overwhelmed with gratitude every time I see the phrase “Proust concept album” in any context!

  • Rebecca A.

    @Karion: You are brilliant with eggs!

    Emily, great recipe. I admit I used a lot less olive oil the first time I made your delicious heartbreak soup, and I have been routinly skimming the fat off my chicken broth for years, but then, I hope I’ve learned SOMETHING with age….

  • Maggie

    I independently came to that conclusion about heartbreak soup, which I made awhile ago. Otherwise it was great.

  • Rebecca A.

    Although in a way, the heartbreak part of it might be more satisfied by the richness of all that fat….you know, you like to be “bad” when you heart is broken…

  • Guy

    Great column as always. Check out the Grea Area coffee shop while you’re there. Where was that column where you said something about if you’re not having sex with someone it’s time to break up? I’ve been searching for it everywhere and I’m starting to think that it was really a dream I had.

  • emily

    @ Rebecca A.. it’s not the self-indulgent kind of fat, it’s just excessive and gross. I’d advise the heartbroken to skim the fat and eat a sundae for dessert.

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