Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

28 September 2009

What’s For Breakfast?

Somewhere high above the Java Sea the Malaysian air hostess brought my breakfast tray of exotically ornamented china, napkin-shrouded cutlery and a lonely bowl of corn flakes. She promised more to come: omelettes, steak, a fish dish of some sort; coffee, tea, fruit juice. But I was desperately hungry, my body clock all over the place, and calculating to when we’d left Rome hours and hours before I’d have said it was dinner time; but the airline had different ideas.

I eyed the corn flakes. A dry heap. No milk in sight anywhere. I had to have something, so I started to eat them as you’d eat nachos or pre-cocktail nibbles and discovered that they were extremely good that way. In fact, while admitting that I haven’t eaten corn flakes for years, I have to say that I’ve never enjoyed them quite so much. I finished the bowl.

At which point - wouldn’t you know it? The milk arrived.

Funny things corn flakes. They’ve been around for well over a century. If you’d tried to buy a packet of Kelloggs or Sanitarium before 1898 you’d have been out of luck. Before then the closest you could have got would have been some gravelly corn husk things called ‘hominy grits’. Cowboys used to eat them in all the cowboy books that I read when I was a boy…
‘Wild George Dubya kicked the dust over his camp fire, packed up his bed roll and finished the last of his hot, black coffee. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand as his tongue sought to dislodge a hominy grit from the cheap upper dentures that low down tooth-puller in Abilene had sold him. He looked at the angry sun rising like a curse out of the prairie. Today was the day when he’d catch up with the skunk who shot his pa…’
The only way you could make hominy grits edible was by boiling them until they were soft enough not to smash your teeth; but by some miracle, in 1894, the Kellogg brothers, Dr John and Will, working together at the Seventh Day Adventists’ Sanitarium at Battle Creek, Michigan, discovered that by squeezing softened wheat and corn kernels through rollers and then baking the resulting flakes they became wholly edible. Four more years of experiment led to the birth of both Sanitarium and Kelloggs’ Corn Flakes and breakfast has never been the same since.

They do say that practically everybody eats either wheat biscuits or corn flakes for brekky these days although I, personally, prefer toasted home-made bread and home made marmalade. (Recipes available at donovan@ihug.co.nz).

Mind you, I wasn’t always that sensible; before cholesterol frescoed the insides of the ancestral arteries I was a great one for the only meal the poms have ever been renowned for, the ‘full English breakfast’. The big London hotels still do them, so do landladies in bed-and-breakfasts around British seaside resorts, and you can get a particularly excellent one on the cross channel ferry that plies between Dover and Calais:- two fried eggs, their skirts ever so slightly singed and their yolks marbled by an assiduous chef who’s flicked sizzling bacon fat over them as they’ve cooked. They lie on fried bread that’s never soggy and are accompanied by rashers of streaky bacon also done to a subtle crisp. The odd beef sausage is by no means out of place and a little colour and piquancy is added by a modestly blushing tomato or two. Oh, the days of my youth!

A piece of research I read some years ago showed that New Zealanders were cereal eaters five days a week but were into the bacon and eggs at weekends but I somehow doubt if that’s still the case. As we’ve become more health conscious we’ve abandoned the glory of the formidable breakfast, which, if you believe all you read, was even more glorious in Edwardian times…
‘Algie appeared in the morning room looking the worse for wear after a losing night at the card tables. Gamely attempting a flippant manner, he lifted the lids off the silver dishes one by one: devilled kidneys, smoked haddock, grouse and partridge (suitably strong and well-hung) larks tongues and venison paté with sauté potatoes… “God I’m bored!” he cried. “Any one for tennis?”.’
The strange thing about those Edwardians is that so many of them lived to ripe old ages. I suppose they suffered from gout; and they probably had a fair measure of flatulence. But they probably compensated by keeping fit tramping the moors, shooting their beaters or drowning their gillies, and if they went travelling at all it was by ship with a chance to walk the promenade deck and play quoits, which you can’t do on a Boeing flying from Rome to Auckland via Kuala Lumpur. Which is why it’s probably a good idea to flag away the omelettes and stick to the dry corn flakes.

And that’s where I came in.



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By Don Donovan

About Me

My photo

Don Donovan: Biography

I was born on 20 January 1933, nine days before Hitler came to power in Germany, I grew up in south London. Although evacuated during the phoney war and the quieter times I lived in and out of air raid shelters during the blitz and experienced both V1 and V2 attacks on London. Left grammar school in 1948 aged 15 substantially undereducated. I wanted to go to art school but because of family ‘poverty’ joined a commercial art studio in the West End. I was, thereafter, variously a messenger boy, commercial artist and typographer. I was in the Royal Air Force from 1951 to 1953 when the only useful thing I did was to take part in King George VI’s funeral parade.

In 1955 I married Patricia O’Donnell, a RADA graduate, at that time playing opposite Derek Nimmo, they were juvenile leads in a touring repertory company. He went on to great success because he had a funny voice.

We came to New Zealand in 1960 where I worked in advertising. At length I became managing director of one of the companies of whose holding company (the largest domestic advertising complex in New Zealand) I was also a proprietor and shareholder. I left the industry in 1990 when my company was bought out by American interests. My timing was brilliant, at that point my first book had been published and the next was on its way.

We have two daughters and four grand-children.

Now, apart from writing, I function as a self-educated grumpy old man.

Books & Writings

‘New Zealand Odyssey’, with Euan Sarginson, Heinemann-Reed, 1989.

‘One Man’s Heart Attack’, New House, 1990. (A special edition of this book was purchased by CIBA-Geigy for distribution to NZ doctors).

‘Open 7 Days’, Random Century, October 1991.

‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’ by Saint Publishing in 1995 followed by:
‘New Zealand House & Cottage’ in 1997. (Saint Publishing have also published calendars for the years 1994 to 2004 using my watercolour illustrations).

‘The Wastings’, my first novel was published in July 1999 by Hazard Press. Although an international subject it had very limited distribution, only in New Zealand, and the rights have reverted to me. (Colin Dexter read 'The Wastings' and wrote to me: 'I enjoyed and admired "The Wastings"... a beautifully written work... a splendid debut in crime fiction... More please!'.)

Also the texts of photographic books:
‘Colourful New Zealand’
‘New Zealand in Colour’
‘Top of the South’
‘Above Auckland’
‘Hauraki Gulf Destinations’
‘Bay of Plenty’
and a compilation of photographs and quotations titled ‘Anzac Memories’ 2004 all published by New Holland.

My written and illustrated book, ‘Country Churches of New Zealand’ was published in October 2002 by New Holland, who also published ‘Rural New Zealand’ 2004 (photographs and text), and a series of four humorous books of photographs and quotations in 2004 and 2005 titled ‘Woolly Wisdom’, ‘Chewing the Cud’, ‘Fowl Play’, and ‘Pig Tales’. My most recent book was published in August 2006 by New Holland, titled ‘Political Animals’.

Over the years I have written for NZ Herald, Heritage Magazine, Next Magazine and various local and overseas travel and general interest media.