St. John

I  am feeling blessed this morning. It’s a feeling that I’ve experienced a lot lately. It’s not gratitude for monetary or material things, but for experiences and relationships. I’m grateful for many things, mostly for time spent with friends and family— morning, noon, and night.

It occurred to me the other day that I eat lunch with my wife almost every day. For 30 years, I’ve kind of taken that for granted and not given it the gratitude that it is due. Meals spent with family and friends are, in my book, one of life’s greatest treasures. That is why I am blessed. It’s the three meals a day that I share with others.

First off, I am blessed to have always been in a situation where I have had three meals available to me each day. Always. Many are not so lucky. Even when I spent seven years in my 20s in a one-room apartment above my grandmother’s garage — oftentimes counting change in the sofa cushions broke — I never really missed meals.

I receive three blessings a day. Breakfast is for friends. Lunch is for my wife. Dinner is for family.

That is how it shakes out a majority of the time. But that is not a hard and fast rule. I like meeting with friends for breakfast. There is something communal — almost primal — about gathering every morning with a group of men to start the day. When I was younger, I would always look at the old men that gathered at a coffee shop or breakfast joint every morning and wonder why? Now that I am an old man, I get it.

I am not sure what it is that makes breakfast so special to me. I appreciate friendship as much as the next guy. Though I might appreciate breakfast a little more than the next guy. It’s always been my favorite meal of the day. 

There are exceptions to the breakfast-is-for-friends; lunch-is-for-my-wife; dinner-is-for-family rule. My breakfasts aren’t always with friends. The best breakfasts are with my son. I love and appreciate my son and daughter equally. But my daughter is a late sleeper — always has been — and I suspect, always will be. She and I are into movies. My son, on the other hand, is typically an early riser. At 16-years old, he sleeps in a little later than he used to. But for those first 14 years, especially when we were traveling, he and I were up and in search of the next, best, breakfast joint.

In 2011, when my wife and two kids packed our bags and headed to Europe for six months, my son and I ate breakfast together every morning. He was 10-years old at the time and open for anything. It was a tremendous bonding experience. We ate breakfast on a roof overlooking the Temple of Zeus and the Acropolis in Athens, in great food markets in Barcelona and Budapest, on the sidewalks of Rome, in bakeries from Tuscany to Provence, and small cafes, trattorias, and hotel lobbies across 72 cities in 17 countries. Those breakfasts together made a huge impression on both of us, and we still talk about them to this day.

Today, he and I still eat breakfast together when the family is traveling, and always on game days before a football game, but his mother feeds him on school days and most weekend mornings. If I’m not eating breakfast with my son or friends, then I like to schedule morning business meetings around breakfast.

There is something very natural about a breakfast business meeting, and getting together to tackle challenges while the day is fresh. It knocks out one of those to-do list items early, and tends to free up the afternoon. As I mentioned earlier, I eat lunch with my wife almost every day. It’s something that I have never really thought about before, and maybe I’ve taken that for granted, but I am truly blessed to have been able to do that. When the kids were little they ate lunch with us, too. Even when they were in elementary school, we would check one of them out of school — at least weekly — to go have lunch with us, and then check them back in for their afternoon classes. They never missed a thing, and we were blessed with years of fun and meaningful lunches.

Some men go home from work and their wives have lunch waiting on them. That’s not my deal. It’s not that my wife wouldn’t do that, I’m sure she’d be happy to — and we have done that on rare occasions. But I am usually in the middle of a work day, or attending meetings, and it works out better in restaurants. 

We almost always eat dinner together as a family. Many times, our dinners are eaten out in restaurants, on weekends those evening meals might be shared with friends, but my favorite dinners are those spent in the breakfast room in our home — at the table I am currently tying this column on — just the four of us. At these family dinners shared at home, it matters less to me what the food is, it’s about the family, and time shared at the end of a day. 

The three-meals-a-day rules— Breakfast with friends lunch with the wife, dinner with family — aren’t hard and fast. I go through stages. Before my 85-year old mother moved into an independent living facility that feeds her breakfast every morning, I ate breakfast with her three days a week. That changed to every Saturday morning when the French bakery in town was still open. These days we need to find a new Saturday morning breakfast spot. 

And that is why I am feeling blessed this morning. At the end of the day, expensive cars, homes, and art won’t matter. In the end, it’s lives impacted and experiences shared that create a rich, full life and legacy.

I look forward to being blessed with many more breakfasts with my son, lunches with my wife, dinners with my entire family, and movies with my daughter.

Cinnamon Rolls 

1 recipe Dinner Roll dough, cold 

4 TB unsalted butter, melted

1 cup brown sugar

1 TB cinnamon

1 1/2 cup powdered sugar

3 TB milk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.

On a generously floured surface, roll the dough to a rectangle measuring 18 inches x 12 inches. Brush the entire surface of the dough with the melted butter, except for a 1/2-inch border at the top. Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon and thoroughly spread over the buttered dough, except for a 3/4 inch border at the top. Starting with the long edge closest to you, roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Firmly pinch the seam to seal and turn the cylinder seal side down. Gently squeeze as needed to create an even thickness. Cut the cylinder into 12 rolls, about 1 1/2 inch thick and place into greased baking pan. The rolls should be touching. Wrap and allow to rise at room temperature for an hour. Remove wrap and place in oven until golden brown, about 30 minutes. 

While the rolls are cooling slightly, make the icing combining powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla until smooth. Spread over the rolls and serve immediately.

Dinner Rolls

5 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1 1/2 TB baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp salt

1/3 cup sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter, frozen and shredded on the large holes of a box grater

2 cups buttermilk, cold

1/4 cup  water, room temperature

1 each .25 oz. package yeast

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Work the shredded butter into the flour mixture by hand.  There should still be little pieces of the butter spread throughout.

Dissolve the yeast in the water, then add the buttermilk. Fold into the flour mixture and mix by hand for about 2-3 minutes. The dough will be very sticky at first but will smooth out eventually. At this point, the dough may be wrapped tightly and held refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for a month.

Preheat oven to 375 and coat a large muffin pan with non-stick spray. Generously flour a clean, dry workspace. Place the dough on the surface and sprinkle more flour on top. Roll the dough out to 1/2-inch thickness with a rolling pin. Using a 2” round cutter, cut rounds and stack two of them on their sides in each compartment of the muffin pan. Wrap the pans and allow the rolls to rise at room temperature for an hour. Bake until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.

ROBERT ST. JOHN  is a father, husband, restaurateur, chef, author, columnist, world-class eater.

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