The Reassurance of Shit on a Shingle

Life can be fine, in a simple way, and when you remind yourself not to expect too much, so when symmetries and reassurances come to you at any time, like this morning and quite by accident and no matter how small, then things are fine enough.

Last night just before going to bed I was reading recipes for American breakfast sausage patties. I’ve always liked these when eaten in a diner on the rare occasions I now get back to the States. I’ve also been trying to make these here, now and then, but not having great emulating success. It seems easy: pork mince and lots of pepper. I found out last night there are more spices needed, and these should marinate over night. So I’ll be trying that soon. And all of this makes me hungry for an American breakfast.

I’ve got a poem being published soon about my working in a diner. I wrote it some time ago – a diner as a metaphor for memory and writing – and it was titled Easy Over. I used this expression recently here in England with some friends and was reminded that it’s over easy. I’m the American and I got that wrong. It’s a bit like drawing Freddy Flypogger back to front, I guess. I changed the title before submitting.

My absolute favourite American breakfast at a diner is biscuits and gravy, link sausages and/or sausage patties [that’s too much meat already, I know] and eggs over easy. Then loads of maple syrup on the sausages and patties. Hash browns as well, real ones of course. I made these recently and learned the key is to squeeze out the starch from the grated potatoes through a cloth before frying. There will be variations and additionals to this selection.

The American breakfast I most like when I am making it at home is SOS. That’s quite simple: minced beef fried in a pan, a tin of mushroom soup added to this, and once heated through, scooped onto toast. Many years ago I organised a breakfast for my sixth form students at the school where I worked. They brought in things they liked/wanted which obviously included eggs and sausages. I remember telling one girl she couldn’t just fry frozen pork sausages before they’d thawed as this was dangerous. I think this same girl also made French toast, but she called it ‘eggy bread’, and that’s the first time I had heard it called that. No one, to my recollection, liked the SOS I made. Not a single person.

Some English teaching friends and I organised a school exchange visit to Oregon years ago where my family lived. I took three of the colleagues to my parents’ house one morning where my dad made SOS for breakfast. They didn’t like it either, and they still refer disparagingly to it all these years later. They still think it’s funny to do so.

So this morning I am reading more stories from Larry Brown’s Big Bad Love collection. I started a while ago and had a break whilst exam marking, but having finished that yesterday, I’ve now returned to the book and just read the very short story Sleep.

In this, a guy and his wife are in bed. Neither of them sleep well, but especially the woman. It is cold outside and in the house, but the guy is warm in bed, especially underneath the recently bought electric blanket which is controlled perfectly by a thermostat. His wife hears a noise downstairs and she wakes him to go and investigate. As we find out, this is a daily, early morning ritual, and the story evolves around the husband’s mixed feelings about this but especially two things: how cold it will be when he does eventually get out of bed to inspect the certain empty house, but also his recurring thoughts about breakfast. All kinds of foods are thought about – all classic American breakfast foodstuffs – including T-bone steak. I’ve had steak for breakfast. And a huge slab of ham. American breakfasts are big, and meaty.

Then I read this wonderful segment:

The thermostat clicks on and off, with a small reassuring sound, keeping us warm. I think about hash browns, and toast, and shit on a shingle. I think about cold places I have been in. It’s wonderful to do that, and then feel the warm spaces between my toes.

The symmetry of going to bed reading about breakfast sausage patties, and then reading this morning about someone else’s breakfast with shit on a shingle. That’s my SOS, though I’ve always called it simply ‘shit on shingle’, but it was reassuring to hear someone else express such a mutual fondness for this.


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