What did you have for breakfast this morning? I had McCann’s steel-cut oatmeal with strawberries and a little pomegranate kefir. Nutritious, delicious, and filling, and part of my very conscious effort to break away from the unhealthy coffee and croissant habit I’ve been enjoying since I was a young Francophile living in Paris. Not that I deny myself completely. You can get a perfect croissant and latte in Los Angeles, most notably at Susina on Beverly and La Brea, one of my primary writing haunts. I also like the organic soft-boiled eggs served with amazing homemade bread at Le Pain Quotidien in Beverly Hills, site of much of the celebrity eavesdropping I’ve inappropriately shared on this blog. And if you’re really going whole hog (and don’t mind looking like one), nothing beats the pancakes or French toast at DuPar’s in Farmer’s Market.
Do they still say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, or was that part of some Kellogs-funded propaganda campaign? It was always my favorite meal as a kid. On weekends, my mother would make us hot cereal (at the time I preferred the smooth, lily white goodness of Cream of Wheat to the rough-hewn gummy Quaker Oats, despite my nephews’ national shilling of the product), or matzah brei, something I still make for my daughter at least once a week, or my mother’s specialty, eggs in the hole.
But during the week, our standard morning fare was the heavily sugared, day-glo colored, artificially flavored breakfast cereals of the 1960s. My sister Sue just sent me this classic photograph of the two of us enjoying our morning bowl of Trix at the breakfast table. As luck would have it, my sister is even more of an OCD archivist than I am, and she finally figured out how to use her scanner. This photo fascinates me on several levels. First of all, how old are we, the image looks as ancient as a Civil War Daguerreotype! Even though we’re looking at the camera, I love the candid nature of the shot. What possessed my mother or father to get out the old Polaroid that morning and snap this photo? How I wish we had more of these images from daily life instead of the lined-up portraits taken at weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. I could stare at that cool early 1960s kitchen for hours. Of course it was eventually “improved” to remove all traces of wood and other natural products. Sigh.
The photo was taken when we still lived in our two-bedroom apartment at 5842 N. St. Louis in Chicago. When I was in first grade, we moved a few blocks away to what was a mansion by comparison, but is it just nostalgia talking when I say that we were never happier as a family than when we were in those cramped quarters on St. Louis? My brother, sister, and I shared one large bedroom, our twin beds lined up in single file against the wall. I never longed for my own room back then, and I remember being quite lonely when we moved on up to the Big House (where my father still lives today). I love that the box of Trix is prominently displayed on the table and wish I could show it to my mom who playfully denied most of the facts in an essay I published years ago about growing up on junk food.
Trix was probably my favorite sugary cereal. I loved how the fluorescent colors of the little balls would create colored swirls in my milk. I remember carefully moving the pieces of Trix in my bowl to create words with the food coloring that was leaching off the product. My pièce de résistance, following one of the annual viewings of “The Wizard of Oz,” was spelling “Surrender Dorothy!” in my cereal bowl. In addition to Trix, my steady diet of breakfast cereals included Cap’n Crunch, Apple Jacks, Sugar Crisps, Froot Loops, Sugar Smacks, Frosted Flakes, Cocoa Puffs, Sugar Puffs, Corn Pops, and those yummy Lucky Charms, which every Baby Boomer knows, were “so magically delicious.” Of course I mastered the art of avoiding those nasty oat bits with my spoon and going straight for the soggy marshmallow treats including pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, and green clovers. Here’s a commercial for Trix that may have been playing on our giant black-and-white high-fidelity General Electric console while the photograph above was being taken:
Make no mistake, these cereals were poison, and I’m tempted to organize a class-action suit against all 1960s parents who were suckered into purchasing these science experiments for their children. But oh, how I loved them. When my parents started feeling guilty about our daily sugar intake, we’d begrudgingly eat the “health food” alternatives they’d place before us, such as Rice Krispies, Raisin Bran, plain Corn Flakes, Cheerios, Special K, Life, Chex, or the dreaded Shredded Wheat. These products still contained copious amounts of sucrose, believe me, but since each piece wasn’t officially “frosted,” we’d add so much extra granulated sugar that our bowls looked like fields of glistening snow drifts.
I guess a lot of these cereals still exist, but I can’t imagine giving any of them to my 12-year-old daughter. Not that I’m judging any of you who do so, it’s just that I don’t want to stunt my child’s growth or make sure her teeth rot before the age of 40. Oh well, I should just shut up, I resorted to plenty a Pop Tart in Leah’s younger days when I didn’t have the energy to make a real meal. And I’m not so sure that the Whole Foods cereals we eat are really that much better than the sugar-based concoctions of my youth. They’re certainly not as colorful.