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Cover Story Plant Life On Fitness Taste Northwest Living Now & Then


Champion of Breakfast
An enticing, enlightening book makes the case for our first meal
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"FLAN FOR BREAKFAST? Chocolate Bread Pudding? Tomato jam? What is this?" I wondered.

My first browse through "Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Café" left me thinking either I was hopelessly square or Katzen was off her rocker. But a closer look had me feeling pretty hungry, and after trying the Orange-Vanilla Custard, the Breakfast Biscotti and the Homemade Protein Bars, I was eating out of her hands — figuratively speaking, of course.

Katzen's hands are probably too busy to be feeding anyone these days. Writer, artist, television host and mom, Katzen is best known as the author of the ground-breaking classic "Moosewood Cookbook." With its humble, hand-written text, simple line drawings and friendly vegetarian recipes, Katzen's first book helped make "health food" less threatening to millions of cooks. Later works such as "The Enchanted Broccoli Forest" helped establish Katzen as one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all time and earned her a place on Health magazine's short list of five "Women Who Changed the Way We Eat."

So why breakfast? According to Katzen's introduction, "Breakfast is everyone's favorite meal — yet ironically, relatively few of us seem to make the time to actually prepare or enjoy it." With an evangelistic enthusiasm, Katzen lifts breakfast to a lofty place of significance. "Breakfast," she insists "is the first meal of the rest of our lives."

Thumbnail Homemade Protein Bars
When I read that line, my hogwash detector nearly went through the roof, but then I settled into the thoughtful essay that followed and I gradually hoisted my increasingly heavy self onto Mollie's bandwagon. "We wake up with what is known as 'fasting blood sugar level,' " writes Katzen. "When we ingest food this level rises . . . The ingestion of simple carbohydrates all by themselves on an empty stomach can cause blood-sugar levels to spike quite suddenly. Our pancreas then responds by producing a large rush of insulin to 'go after' that blood glucose and bring it down to a more normal level. When this happens, we tend to experience a precipitous drop in energy and an attack of hunger."

"The trick is to eat in such a way that our blood-sugar level escalates at a moderate rate and doesn't shoot through the roof in a short period of time. This means eating well in reasonable amounts and at appropriate intervals."

OK, OK, so breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But what if we already feel sleep-deprived and the kids have to be fed before they take off for school? Katzen's been there.

"You don't have to give up your beloved piece of toast," she writes, "just add a little cheese or a nut butter instead of eating it plain." This kind of common-sense advice is studded throughout the book, and half an hour into it, my hogwash detector was no longer sounding at all. Rather, I was searching diligently through lists of practical tips for making better breakfasts, smart little riffs on everything from coffee and orange juice to buckwheat and yogurt. Even without the 350 recipes here, "Sunlight Café" contains a book's worth of useful information.

There are no charts or graphs, just persuasive bits of information planted in colorful boxes around the recipes. Presented in the same way as variations on the recipes and tips on deriving more flavor from ingredients, facts on nutrition fall into place as part of the whole picture of how to nourish ourselves for the day ahead.

The book is beautiful to look at, too. Illustrations by the author, rich, colorful images of breakfast foods on bright backgrounds, made me wonder if prints for framing might be found on the author's Web site. It turns out that posters and cards are available at There, too, are dozens of recipes, book reviews and essays on nutrition.

"If the ideas presented in these pages help you rise and shine — and not just rise — and if your daily breakfast becomes a wellspring of peace and pleasure — and not just another source of stress — I will feel I've done my job," writes Katzen in the introduction.

Mission accomplished.

Greg Atkinson is chef at IslandWood on Bainbridge Island. He is author of "The Northwest Essentials Cookbook" (Sasquatch Books, 1999).

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