I’m in New York at the moment, with my boyfriend. I woke up early, suddenly and fully this morning, filled with reasonless happiness. He was asleep, warm beside me.
I started thinking about what to make for breakfast.
Out of nowhere, in that funny discursive way memory has, biscuits and gravy came to mind.
THE SUN KITCHEN
I used to make them every day at the Sun Kitchen, a tiny restaurant I ran for maybe six months in the New Orleans Hotel, in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. That was 1976. I was 23 years old.
The space had held a mediocre restaurant called the Bon Appétit (referred to locally, with true Eureka snark, as “the Bone Pit”) before I took over the lease.
I had no idea whatsoever of how to run a restaurant, but of course that didn’t stop me. I could already cook like a muhfuh (in my own eclectic fashion), and I did.
I made those biscuits and gravy, every day. I made a coffee cake, with cinnamon and streusel on top, every day . I short-ordered eggs and omelettes, bacon and ham (I was not then a vegetarian). I did all the things of breakfast, and lunch, and sometimes dinner.
Some things I was famous for: pork chops, in a creamy Dijon mustard sauce. A chocolate mousse with a little Grand Marnier, which I did as a kind of parfait, with mandarin orange sections. A daily soup and sandwich special, including the open-faced broiled Sun # 1 (broiled in a toaster oven, in that matchbox-sized kitchen).
I was famous for my gingerbread – the recipe of the late Elsie Freund, a watercolor artist and jeweler of the WPA era, who was my local adopted mentor and godmother. I served that gingerbread free one night a month, when the Eureka Springs Ukulele Club met (hilariously) in the New Orleans hotel lobby.
I was so young, energetic, insecure though you would never guessed it, staking my claim in making my place in that little town I was so in love with. And which was always going to both accept, and be put off by, me, the high-energy ex-New Yorker. (I remember a guy named Gary, who made looms, saying to me in the early days, perplexed, “Crescent… didn’t you come here to retire, like everybody else?”)
I remember that a local guitarist/electrician, the laconic Lyle Pinkley — a native — would come in without fail every morning for my biscuits and gravy.
I remember that such was my commitment and loyalty to the place and my customers, that once I trudged in from Dairy Hollow in the snow, along the empty and undrivable streets of Eureka Springs in winter, to open the Sun Kitchen.
Out of nowhere, these memories rose up this happy morning.
As I often say all these days, ‘You don’t have to believe in reincarnation to believe in reincarnation. Just live long enough.”
Meaning… a person can have a whole lot of lifetimes in one lifetime.
I was, as I mentioned, 23. I am 64 now.
This morning I wrote a version of this story and posted it on Facebook, on the page titled You Know You Lived in Eureka Springs, AR, if You Remember…
I noted, at the end: “I have mild curiosity: does anyone else remember the Sun Kitchen? The Bon Appétit? Those biscuits and gravy?”
Many, it turned out, did.
Steve La Fontaine was one. He wrote, “I remember. We ate there every morning till it closed. Always hash browns veggies and cheese. It was so small that everyone had their regular, unofficial, table. Mine was next to the coat/hat tree in the corner. I remember John Tyson,” (then the police chief) ” would come in every morning and toss his cowboy hat at the rack. Sometimes it would fall short; I would give it a tap to help it make it. Thanks for the memory.”
Butch Berry, the present mayor and a Eureka native, who then ran a small architecture office downtown, also recalled it: “I ate breakfast there almost daily, B&G and eggs over easy. My partner, Joe Hodges and I ate lunch there daily also.”
Oh yeah. Joe Hodges. A long-ago boyfriend of a few months. Haven’t thought of Joe Hodges in decades.
Perhaps most amazing: jeweler / art dealer / pack-rat Beau Satori (at one time also mayor of Eureka; he also made Ned’s and my wedding rings) actually HAD one of the Sun Kitchen recipes, and posted it. There it was, long-forgotten, in my 23-year-old handwriting, with a schematic diagram of the famous (but until that moment forgotten) Sun # 1 sandwich. Where, how did he get it, I PM’d him. He wrote, “Off the wall when you closed. I wanted to be able to make it.”
You never ever know how you affect people.
On the high floor of a building in New York City, in my Alpha Dude’s tiny studio apartment, neat as a ship’s cabin, the Hudson River out the window and to the left, as he slept, I contemplated all this.
I considered, again, what to make for breakfast.
No flour or shortening in the house, so biscuits were out. Besides, I’ve long since eaten almost exclusively whole-grains, and though I do make a pretty mean biscuit to this day with wholewheat pastry flour, A) I was not going to leave him to run out and get it and B) we both watch our caloric and fat intake, the better to keep doing what we are privileged to do, hopefully into ripe(r) old age. Not that he would not have been quite happy with biscuits and gravy, since he spent quite a bit of time in the South.
I could have made mighty good gravy easily enough too, using the oil in which I would have browned vegetarian “soysages”, but no. I went in another direction.
He loves mushrooms, and I had just bought a bunch of them, including some beautiful exotics. Maybe I would use them.
When he awoke, after we had our morning interlude. I showered my good mood on him; he reflected it back to me, with his own rough lovely intelligent aggressive pheromones. Afterwards, we lay talking, under the blue and gray quilt I found him at overstocks.com, which matches his apartment perfectly. This is a late life romance. We had so much experience before we met, so many lives, relationships, residences. So much employment, and travel. So many meals. I told him about my morning’s memory meanderings.
I said, “You know, I’m that little girl with the curl on top of her head, and the woman who made biscuits and gravy, and laughing when Ned said that thing about ‘Who do you have to f*** around here to get served,’ that you love so much — I’m all of that and right here with you now. And you are still that 4th grader doing quadratic equations, and that young man sitting in marriage counseling with D, and then latter worrying about being late to that date with P, and being that loving father to your children, and waiting in the hospital…”
Listening intently, he wrapped his arms around me and the miraculousness of having found each other at this time and in these ways shone for both of us.
Then he said, “I want to just stay here and hold you, but I’m going to need breakfast pretty soon.”
He found the black lace bathrobe I leave here and brought it to me. “I know the French have a name for this,” he said, handing it to me. “Is it a peignoir?”
“No,” I said, “I think a peignoir is more transparent, and full length, and it goes over over a matching nightgown.”
“Is it a camisole?” he asked.
“Definitely not a camisole,” I said.
“Not a camisole,” he said nodding, mock-serious, as if this mattered.
What mattered was, is, we are alive. We are here. We have pasts and a present. We love each other. We are hungry.
One day, perhaps, I will make him biscuits and gravy, probably in my own kitchen in Vermont.
But this morning, I made a mushroom omelette, with crumbles of goat cheese, multigrain toast and fresh berries on the side.
The New York sun poured in, reflecting off the buildings and the river, and life reinvented itself, as it does each morning.
The past, which shaped us, and the present, where we reside, converge.
Over and over. Over easy.