Breakfast on the Big Wood River

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Photo by Pascale Brevet


On Christmas morning, the house is silent. No refrigerator humming. No gurgling coffee machine. No fingers moving across keyboards. I can hear the river a few meters away, water moving over the stones and lapping against the spreading ice. The house is cold. The Big Wood River runs thousands of miles from where I usually spend the holidays.

The power company says a helicopter is circling to identify the problem. A whole crew is working on it. More news soon, they say. But the power has been out for hours here in the mountains of southern Idaho.

We place sausages in an iron skillet and set it over the fire. The air fills with their smoky smell.

We light a huge fire in the fireplace. We light the wood-burning stove and put an iron kettle on, and when the water is finally hot and my boyfriend's father pours it over the coffee, it is the purest of pleasures: the achievement of something waited for. The toasted aroma is somehow rounder than usual, more comforting. The coffee turns cold in the cold air, and as it does the flavors deepen, becoming sweeter and spicier.

We wrap frozen homemade bread in foil and place it on a makeshift grill over the fire. We graze on the pralines I made the day before, drinking more of the handmade coffee. The sun shines through the windows. The defrosted bread gives under the toothed blade, and we lay slices on the grill. We place sausages in an iron skillet and set it over the fire. The air fills with their smoky smell. They brown fast, some of them burning.

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Photo by Pascale Brevet

We crack eggs into the pan, and their sizzle combines with that of the sausages into a wonderful music. One of the egg yolks breaks, but the others remain intact, shining yellow volcanoes waiting to run over the meat. The white mixes and cooks with the fat, its edges a golden lace.

I feel like the cowboy who—I imagine—lived here a century ago. A cigarette at the corner of his mouth, he waits for the stew to warm in his Dutch oven. The fire crackles, the cows moo. He finally eats, the food filling him with a radiating warmth, soothing a back that is sore from a day on the range.

And now our own skillet is on the table, and the toasted bread wrapped in cloth. It is such a simple meal, yet we marvel at the taste of these basic ingredients. There is the taste of the burning wood, of the smoke, and there is also pride, a feeling of victory over nature. There is more of ourselves in this dish than had we cooked it on the gas stove with the help of a microwave and toaster.

Suddenly the elaborate espresso machine jolts back to life. The lights snap on. Clicks and beeps fill the air. But what we've wished for all morning doesn't bring the expected relief. Instead, I am sad, already nostalgic for our brief adventure. For the close attention we paid to cooking our food. To the sound. To the heat on my hands. The slow brewing coffee.

I am nostalgic for waiting.

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Pascale Brevet is a French freelance writer, food consultant, and compulsive traveler. More

Pascale Brevet is a French freelance writer, food consultant, and compulsive traveler. After working for years as an executive at Christian Dior, she gave up her job and moved to Colorno, Italy, where she received a master's degree in Food Culture and Communication from UniSG. Most recently, she worked for NECOFA in Molo, Kenya, on food and nutrition security for HIV/AIDS patients.
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