The Art of Breakfast by Dana Moos is a fabulous breakfast and brunch cookbook. Bringing the luxurious breakfasts she served in her B & B into your home.
I discovered the cookbook, The Art of Breakfast: How to Bring B & B Entertaining Home, about a year ago. Reading it cover-to-cover, I was dazzled by its luxurious, decadent dishes and the time and care the author, Dana Moos, expended on this sometimes neglected meal. On weekdays, breakfast for me is a fresh fruit and vegetable smoothie, but the weekends are another matter. At the weekends, breakfast (or more accurately time-wise, brunch) is a complex and lavish affair.
In 2004, Dana and her husband moved from Washington D.C. to Mount Desert Island in Maine to buy the Kingsleigh Inn bed and breakfast, a move she describes as "a home, job, investment & lifestyle . . . a way of life . . . food, wine, art, travel, entertainment and sharing your personal style." This book details her approach to food and hospitality and the remarkable breakfasts she made at the inn, all accompanied by her own bright, colourful photographs. When travelling and choosing where to stay, breakfast reviews are one of the first things I look at and will resolutely make or break a reservation. There was much about this book that appealed.
She describes in her book how she treated guests to breakfasts "as special as fine dining in the evening . . . We started breakfast with a help-yourself offering of muffins or scones, granola, yoghurt and fresh melon. We then served a plated fruit course followed by an entree, and alternated between savoury and sweet each day. Sometimes we'd end with a sorbet." These meals sounded absolutely epic, as did her commitment to not repeat anything during anyone's stay. She also "tried not to use the same fruits, flavours or ingredients in any of the dishes each morning." That level of creativity, especially in a commercial enterprise, is a true feat!
This book made me want to find out exactly where Maine is, book myself into this wonderful bed and breakfast and jump on the next flight. Unfortunately this dream will never be realised, as Dana and her husband no longer own the Kingsleigh Inn, but the current owners have continued with the fabulous breakfasts, so perhaps all is not lost.
Her business ideology and attitude to hospitality particularly drew me in the book. I have always felt that little extras can be the difference between an uneventful and truly memorable experience, so I was thrilled to read how important it was for her offer a "little something special to help enhance their stay". These wonders - and they did sound wonderful - could include "a plate of chocolate-dipped strawberries . . . a dozen customised teabags with a stack of pecan shortbread . . . for our regular, granola-loving guests, I'd package up a pound of granola with our custom labels and have it waiting in their room upon check-in." These personal touches even included calling "the restaurant were they were dining that evening and having a dessert sent to them from us" or "shipping a batch of their favourite cookies at holiday time." I would LOVE to stay somewhere like that!
When I decided to write about this book, I asked Dana for an interview and was thrilled when she enthusiastically accepted! I was particularly interested in her philosophy of hospitality, her great joy and gratification in cooking and providing for guests. She told me “if I can provide a sense of relaxation, well being and delicious AND beautiful food, while treating my guests to special touches that they may not do for themselves at home, I'm happy. It's also all about anticipating AND exceeding guest's needs.”
When I asked who in particular had touched her with their hospitality, she recalled her “paternal grandmother . . . She made holiday dinners with some ingredients that she didn't even enjoy, but she knew we all did. She always kept things in the house that we would enjoy when visiting. And isn't that what hospitality is all about? Making others happy!” This kind of generosity with food, whether feeding people, sharing recipes or crafting food into a loving gift, also runs throughout her cookbook.
As a self-taught cook, I was also keen to know how she had learned and what else had informed her early food education. She told me her family, particularly her mother, had been influential. “Between watching her cook in a casual setting with a somewhat creative menu for the home cook, and learning what gourmet dinner was like in a high end restaurant, I was inspired to learn by tasting and watching.” The cooking shows of the late 70s and early 80s were also “free culinary school . . . They were cooking shows that focused ONLY on the stove or prep area and NOT the personality of today's cooking hosts. The Great Chefs series on PBS was a major inspiration, in addition to reading cooking magazines and cookbooks. I used them as inspiration, only following a recipe once before doing it my own way.”
I am a big believer in this way of developing as a cook. When trying something new I usually follow the recipe pretty closely (even if I sometimes think I know better!), and then build and expand on what I have experienced and learnt. It is good to have this basis for comparison with your own experiments, and the possibility of learning a new revelatory technique, or of tasting a flavour combination you might not have tried otherwise, is always very real.
Eight years on from her move from D.C., Dana is a passionate advocate for all thing Maine, particularly the “amazingly talented Maine chefs” with their “commitment to fresh, local, creative, beautiful and a balance of moderation”. This approach is reflected in Dana’s own cooking style (now the preserve of her family, friends and cooking school students) and her love of the region’s “simple, fresh ingredients . . . we know they're not processed and we know what the ingredients are".
These fresh ingredients contribute the colour that runs throughout Dana’s food and photography. She is “inspired by the color wheel and using contrasting colors (often with fresh produce or sauces) on a plate. I think the flavors of opposite colors work well together. I look at a plate and without fail, consider what greens I can use, regardless of the meal . . . I love to show how gorgeous food can be and entice people visually.” As she also says in the book, "I learned to make breakfast artful. Now when I walk through a food market, the shelves are filled with food to paint my canvas or empty plate. Fresh fruits and vegetables are my preferred medium. Butter, cream and sugar are a close second."
Through her vibrant, rainbow photography, Dana also tries to show the importance and attraction of “indulgence in moderation . . treat yourself to beautiful, delicious and boldly-flavoured foods! Looking at the pictures should make you crave the food immediately”.
And crave her food I do! The food in the book - the photographs, titles, descriptions and ingredients - are immediately tempting. It is colourful, creative, indulgent, natural food, and like Dana's eternally optimistic attitude towards life, it is both positive and happy.
Photograph: Dana Moos
Although not a vegetarian herself, most of the dishes she served at her inns - and those featured in the cookbook - were meat-free. In the book she recalls that "carnivores didn't even realise I rarely served meat because what they were enjoying was so much more creative and fresh." As a vegetarian myself, I have always felt that this is the way to a meat-eater's heart, much more effective than lecturing them on the global and personal benefits of vegetarianism. She tells me the backbone of her cooking is formed of “garlic, shallots, onions, leeks, mushrooms, scallions, Parmesan (whole chunks), butter, olive oil, truffle oil, lemon, Dijon mustard, Sherry, San Marzano tomatoes - they can be the foundation of SO many dishes, especially with caramelized onions!” YUM!
Dana teaches classes at Stonewall Kitchen (speciality food producers and retailers) in York, Maine, in multi-course brunch and dinner parties. I absolutely love giving dinner parties, the more courses the better, so am always interested in other people’s ideal gatherings. For Dana, “everyone would be hanging out in the kitchen around a big centre island where the food is . . . and the crackling of a wood burning fire a must.”
Her ideal dinner party would also include:
As someone constantly obsessed with maximising productivity and finding the time to ACHIEVE MORE, while researching this post I was impressed by Dana’s output and work ethic. I hoped to pick up a few tips and asked her how she organised her time: “My creative mind starts the minute I wake up. I don't just sit much which is why I'm not one to take naps. My mind won't let me rest until it's time to sleep at night! I use lists and notes all the time.” Note to self - less sitting!
Although time-constraints might not see Dana writing another cookbook any time soon, she is not short of ideas. “A gluten-free version of The Art of Breakfast . . . a brunch and cocktail pairing . . . afternoon wine and cheese happy hour concoctions . . . ALL chocolate!” I quite fancy a brunch and cocktail pairing book, or perhaps afternoon wine and cheese concoctions. What would you like to see more of?
Check out some of her gorgeous recipes in The Art of Breakfast.