How Novelist Rufi Thorpe Does Breakfast
"Breakfast is one of those meals that you really only have with people you know well"
Rufi Thorpe’s writing—in both her essays and her novels—is full of emotional truths and bracing intellect. Her McSweeney’s column, called “Listicles For People Exactly Like You,” is incredibly specific in that familiarly absurd way that listicles have become on the internet. Her first novel, <em>The Girls From Corona Del Mar</em>, is a story about two women who are best friends as children, until their lives diverge in sombre, unexpected ways. Rufi Thorpe’s second novel, <em>Dear Fang, With Love</em>, which came out in May, has similar elements to her debut: exotic locales with historical depth (in this case, the characters go on a trip Vilnius, Lithuania), a tenuous yet caring relationship (the main character, Lucas, is father to Vera, who he didn’t get to watch grow up but wants to connect with during this trip), and complex emotional issues (Vera, a smart, sharp teenage girl struggling with bipolar disorder, which is the reason Lucas scheduled the trip in the first place)—all through effortless, absorbing prose. I spoke to her over the phone about breakfast—both in her real world and her fictional ones—as her baby gurgled in the background.
So let’s talk about breakfast.
Well we’re egg people. A lot of days I make my sons something small before school. I used to make this thing with sweet potatoes. I would grate sweet potatoes, or you can pre-grate them. Put them in a food processor actually, and just have a huge thing of them in the fridge. I would just throw them down in the morning in the coconut oil. Toss in some baby spinach and let that cook for a while, and then when you flip it to cook the other side of the hash browns, then I would just crack eggs on top, and then put the lid on so the eggs steam. You get a nice over-easy egg on top of your hash browns, but it only used one pan. Almost of my cooking is centered around making as few dishes as possible.
Yeah, that's the dream. Like in college where I would just fry everything, or stir-fry everything. It's so much less cooking.
Oh, totally. Stir-fry is a major go-to.
Sometimes I just ate out of the pan to make things easier. Are you a coffee or tea person?
I am also a coffee person, not a tea person. We recently have undergone coffee renovations. We were in the Keurig reality, but we heeded that the pods were polluting the planet. The refillable pods are a pain in the butt, you might as well use a regular coffee maker. It takes away all the convenience, you know? We decided to get the espresso one because you can recycle the pods, and we hated it. We hated the coffee, and we hated that it had this foam on it. I'm a very slow coffee drinker, and so by the time I would finish my cup of coffee it was this cold pond scum on top of my coffee. Now we have upgraded to a $30 Mr. Coffee, as simple as you could be coffee machine, and we are very happy again. I love tea, and I drink tea almost every day, but for me it's more of an afternoon and also herbal tea at night. But for the morning, I can't. I need coffee, Team Coffee all the way. I can not do it.
Do you have a routine when it comes to the mornings, anything with a writing routine?
Well, generally my day goes, I wake up and, this sounds really odd, but I bring my two year old breakfast in bed, and he gets to watch cartoons while he eats. While he's doing that I pack his lunch, and get dressed myself, and get the baby all changed and ready for the day. And then we get him dressed, take him to school, and then I usually do grocery shopping and housework until the baby gets tired. That's usually at like ten, which is why he's getting grumpy now. He goes and takes a two hour nap and that's when I get the bulk of my writing done. I try and do emails and stuff from my phone during the first part of the day, because I don't want to use my special two hours at the laptop. It's the only time that I get on stuff like that, that's like actual work.
Usually somewhere in there, I'll make fried eggs for everybody, but when I make my four-year-old breakfast I'll make fried eggs after I get home for me and the baby. For some reason I don't remember liking fried eggs when I was a child. I was afraid of the runny yolk, but that's my kids' favorite part. He calls it the silky part of the egg. And he's mad if I overcook them, he's like, "Where is the silky part?"
That sounds like your kid's going to be like a breakfast entrepreneur or something, or like a food critic. "It wasn't silky enough."
He would have to become significantly more accepting of new food if he's going to be a food critic. It's just at this point I'm not even encouraging him to try and eat the foods I know he won't like. I'm not even trying for spinach right now. I'm just trying to get him to accept food that's different than the food he normally eats. They get so narrow when they're a toddler, it's like they bond to like five foods, and they only want those five foods, it's crazy and frustrating. For some reason fried eggs were one of the foods. At almost any time, day or night, I could be like, "You want an egg?" And he'll be like, "Yes, I want an egg.”
In your book, Lucas has breakfast with Vera. That kind of reminds me of like sitting around a dinner table and talking with your family, the way Lucas gets to spend time with Vera in the mornings.
It's true, and it's the most time they've ever spent together, so they get all these incredible moments. Breakfast is one of those meals that you really only have with people you know well, you know? It's a much more intimate thing, because usually it's at home and everyone's just woken up and so they have to have been sleeping near you. I mean, I guess you can meet up for brunch, but even still, you don't meet up for brunch with strangers really.
Or you have to dress up, you have to get ready.
Yeah, yeah, but there's something especially about breakfast that's just little foraged things out of the kitchen. It's just a very intimate and magical thing.
I mean, compare that to how Lucas first meets Vera [they meet when she’s only a toddler] and he’s hungover for their breakfast date on New Year’s Day at an IHOP.
Oh, you're right. They go for breakfast. That's so interesting how they chose that, huh? I didn't even think of that.
It's the most anemic place you could get breakfast, like an IHOP. I love IHOP, but it's not an intimate place.
No, it's not. It's really weird how fast everything happens at IHOP. I think that's why I chose it. He winds up saying all the wrong things and there's no pauses, there's no space, he can't maneuver. It's like, his opening move is wrong, and then the whole thing kind of crumbles and he doesn't understand how it happened. I feel like life is like that.