Surviving the fall

Henri starts the day off with the right coffee, the right music and coffee cake to die for

Photo Illustration by Tina Flynn

Dear Henri:

I’ve been finding it hard to get out of bed these days. Sometimes I just pull the down comforter back up under my chin and roll over and go back to sleep. Or watch movies all day. Last Sunday I stayed in bed and watched Some Like It Hot three times in a row. I think I may be depressed. My parents don’t let me visit anymore, and it’s getting darker. Can you help?

Down in Chico

Dear Down:

I know exactly what you mean. I call them the “ber months": September, October, November, December. The days grow short, leaves turn and fall, and an odd sadness hangs just beyond the wisps of smoke curling out of neighbors’ chimneys. Henri himself sometimes has trouble getting out of bed.

Eventually, I do, though—usually by 11, at the very latest. I wrap myself in my heavy bathrobe (flannel floor-length, by Pierre Cardin), stumble to the kitchen and put the coffee on. And if it’s a weekend, I like to cook, which can sometimes turn a dark morning into an afternoon of glorious possibility.

Of course, many were the mornings that L. and I, groggily recovering from late-night clubbing or all-night movie-watching, idled lazily over the Times at one or another of our favorite cafés in the Village, gradually coming to life as the caffeine and sugar found their way into our bloodstreams. We loved chatting up the young baristas and imagining the piercings we couldn’t see.

But these crisp fall mornings, especially living tout seul as I am now, I often stay home and treat myself to a hot and hearty breakfast. A favorite: Henri’s Famous Coffee Cake. To die for, especially with good music, a good newspaper and good coffee.

First things first. You’re going to need a five-CD changer, with shuffle mode, because you want a good three or four hours of continuous music, and once you sit down with your breakfast and the newspaper you want to get up as infrequently as possible. An ideal mix: Abandoned Luncheonette, by Hall and Oats; La Vie en Rose, by Edith Piaf; Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis; Billie Holiday: The Decca Years, Vol. II, or anything with “My Man” on it; Joshua Judges Ruth, by Lyle Lovett; and Judy in Love and Alone, by Judy Garland. Notes: 1) If you’re fortunate enough to own a copy of Ne Me Quitte Pas, by Jacques Brel, substitute it for Joshua Judges Ruth; 2) it’s paramount that you resist temptation, no matter how great, to put on Joni Mitchell, for many reasons.

Next, a good newspaper, which is not as difficult to find in this town as you might think. The New York Times (but of course!) is available at Tower Records downtown, and, although I hate to admit it, I’ve actually been reading the San Francisco Chronicle instead of the Times of late. Quel scandaleux!

Finally, you’ll need good coffee. I’ve found that many of the local coffee shops sell excellent roasted beans, which they’ll grind to your liking. My favorite, though, is Bidwell Perk’s North Beach Italian Roast. I get mine ground for espresso on the courser of the two espresso grinds and make the coffee in a drip cone. Sublime! My physician, the good Dr. Epinards, suggested I watch my cholesterol and encouraged me to use soy milk instead of half-and-half. The gall! Ludicrous.

I’ve also found that, except for the sifting, all of the following can be done while holding a tall flute of good champagne. A votre sante!

Best of luck,

Henri’s Famous Coffee Cake
This supposedly serves six. If you don’t finish it, it’s très bon reheated later or even cold. It’s also Miss Marilyn’s favorite.

1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter (softened)
1 egg
2/3 cup milk
3/4 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
For the topping:
6 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375

Into large bowl, sift flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar. In separate bowl, mix butter and sugar until creamy; add egg and milk. Add sifted ingredients, then the lemon rind and vanilla. Beat until smooth, and then spread into a greased 9x9-inch pan. Mix together the ingredients for the topping, then drizzle over the batter and bake for about 25 minutes.